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"What is that Thing?"
Season/Series: 4
Number in season: 9A
Original Airdate: United States October 15, 1999[1]
Canada January 27, 2000[2]
Written by: Peter K. Hirsch
Storyboard by: Jeremy O'Neill
Emmanuelle Gignac
"Prunella's Prediction"
"Buster's Best Behavior"
Read transcript

"What is that Thing?" is the first half of the ninth episode in the fourth season of Arthur.


A curious object helps everyone finish their seemingly impossible tasks — but what is it?


The episode begins with kids playing at a lake. Arthur is swinging on a tire swing, and notes how tires are good for being more than just tires: they make great swings, for example. Buster, lounging on an inner tube, says that someone must have discovered that truck tires also make "cool rafts." Arthur replies that, with your imagination, you can imagine multiple uses for anything (Binky finds that a reed works as a spitball shooter, with Arthur as his target.) Arthur thinks back to the time of the cavemen, and how the person who discovered fire "was one of the greatest geniuses" of all time (he imagines himself as a caveman, creating fire, much to the amazement of his family). After using Arthur to shield herself from a big splash created by Binky diving into the lake, D.W. says that she knows something that a big brother can be used for: an umbrella.

What is that Thing?

D.W. is pestering Arthur, asking who invented multiple household things. Arthur keeps replying with "I don't know" and gets annoyed. D.W. tells him that he would have the answers if he simply would take her to a puppet show that Mr. Ratburn is holding at the library, a show highlighting inventors. Arthur doesn't want to go with D.W., but he reluctantly complies when their parents are too busy working to take her themselves. Arthur decides it wouldn't be so bad if his friends went with him, so he goes to find Buster first.

However, Buster is trying to figure out an idea for the "Write An Episode For Bionic Bunny" contest, as the deadline is on that day. Arthur then goes to Francine's apartment, but Francine can't go either because she wants to be there for her cat, Nemo; since watching 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, he has developed a fear of water so acute that even the sound of a shower being taken is enough to frighten him. So she proves it to Arthur and causes Nemo to jump onto his head in the process.

Muffy can't go because her new anteater doll, Arnie, fell down a sewer, and she won't leave without getting Arnie out. Brain won't go without fixing his toy plane, which is missing a wheel. As Arthur walks home, disappointed, he finds a strange object. it's a metal spool with holes on the rim with red thread wound up around it. He ponders what it could be when D.W. runs up and wants to see it. Arthur won't let her and they fight over the spool, causing it to fly from Arthur's hand and catapult to Brain. Brain doesn't know what it is, but it's about the right size for a wheel for his plane. He fits it on and flies it, and for a while, it works, but then the plane clips a chimney right next to Francine's apartment, and the "wheel" falls off.

Francine spots the spool, hanging from a tree, and has no idea what it is. Nemo is staring, entranced, at the spool, and she decides to try and use it to hypnotize Nemo into liking water. It works, and he promptly runs into Catherine's shower, now being attracted to water. Next, the spool rolls down the sidewalk to Muffy's sewer, where she spots it. Like everybody else, she doesn't have a clue what it is. She hooks the thread around Arnie's nose and successfully pull him out of the drain. Then the spool rolls away from her and she chases after it.

Buster, who is still trying to think of episode ideas, is the next person to find the spool. Francine walks up, and informs Buster that it's a "cat hypotizer", and it is hers. Muffy says that it's actually hers, and it is a "doll rope". Brain appears, and is running after his plane; he says the spool is really a wheel for his plane, and he needs it for his plane to land. As everyone stands around arguing over what the spool really is and who the rightful owner is, Mr. Ratburn pulls up on a bicycle, and says that the thing is a bobbin, and he needs it for his puppet show. He had been searching around for the bobbin, since he couldn't put the show on without it. He then asks the kids to come, saying that they will find out what a bobbin actually is. Just after Mr. Ratburn leaves, Brain's model airplane crashes. Brain and everyone else salutes the downed plane, and then they all go to the library to see Mr. Ratburn's show. They learn that the bobbin is an essential part of a sewing machine. Arthur is happy that his friends could come along. As they leave, Arthur notes that Buster is the only one whose problem wasn't solved with the bobbin. Buster says he wouldn't be so sure about that... The scene cuts to a Bionic Bunny episode, where Bionic Bunny is fighting a bobbin with a huge nose attached, hypnotizing the cats of the city, controlled by its inventor, Elias Howe. It is revealed that the episode was written by Buster.






  • At the end of the 2000 rerun intro on PBS Kids before this episode, Arthur’s crashing sound remains the same. This is the final episode in the rerun repackage to use this sound, although kept in Kids are from Earth, Parents are from Pluto, The Lousy Week, and The Last of Mary Moo Cow, and on some DVD releases through Season 7.
  • Muffy uses the bobbin to save a plush anteater of hers named "Arnie." It wears Arthur's sweater - a clever in-joke.
  • Nemo's design changed from his appearance in"Francine and the Feline", starting with this episode; his new look has remained in subsequent seasons.

Episode connections[]

  • In the prehistoric time flashback, while Arthur makes a fire with sticks, D.W. says "fire drill" like in "D.W. All Fired Up."
  • At the beginning of this episode, D.W. says Mr. Ratburn's name correctly. But in "The Rat Who Came to Dinner," she frequently says his name incorrectly.
  • Muffy's anteater doll Arnie resembles Arthur. “D.W. Tricks the Tooth Fairy” shows a monkey doll that resembles Francine.
  • Brain's biplane crash-lands at the end of this episode, but it is seen again in "Nerves of Steal;" presumably, it was either repaired or replaced.

Cultural references[]

  • Buster participates in an Idea for a Bionic Bunny Story contest. In 1998 there was a Create Your Own Arthur Episode contest. The winning entries became the plot of "The Contest".
  • Francine mentions reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas by Jules Verne and confirms that her cat is named after Captain Nemo.
  • Elias Howe was a real-world inventor. He was the first to make a sewing machine with a needle with the eye at the point, a shuttle operating beneath the cloth to form the lock stitch, and an automatic feed.


Main article: What is that Thing?/Gallery

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