This story is part of my regular storytelling repertoire. It's based on a Slavic tale but about half of it is original material created by me.
Once there was a village whose citizens did not have a spare brain cell among the lot of them. They were known far and wide for their silly solutions to everyday problems. How silly were their solutions?
They planted boiled potatoes in their fields to save cooking time after the harvest. They wash their dishes before eating to save time after dinner. Once they even tied a rope to an island and tried to pull it closer to their harbor to protect it from storms. Yes, they were truly village full of noodleheads!
But after years and years of being laughed at and called noodleheads by all the villages around them, the villagers got fed up with it. A village meeting was called to decide how to become smarter.
“Everyone keeps telling us we all have tiny brains,” one man said, “so let’s crack open all our heads, take out all the little brains and stuff them inside one head. That person will have lots of brains and can make all our decisions for us!”
“No,“ said another, “that would be too much work. There’s an easier way. Smart people are said to be sharp as a tack. All we have to do is push tacks up our noses and into our brains. Then we’ll all be sharp as tacks, too!”
“No wonder everyone calls us noodleheads,” said the oldest and wisest man in the village. “Those are silly ideas! Why go to all that trouble when we can just send someone to the big market in the city to buy us a box of smarts?”
“You can buy that in the market?” asked the first man.
“They’ve got everything else at the market,” the old man answered, “why not smarts, too?”
So it was decided. The villagers gathered all their extra gold, gave it to the three strongest men in the village and sent them off to the city to buy a box of smarts. The three men left bright and early the next morning and walked half the day to reach the city. When they got to there, they went directly to the market and approached the first merchant.
“We want to buy a box of smarts,” they told the merchant.
Puzzled, the merchant asked, “A box of what?”
“Smarts!” they answered. “We want to stop being fools and sillies and noodleheads and need a box of smarts to do that.”
Seeing that they were serious, the merchant laughed, “I can sell you a bunch of carrots or bushel of corn, but I don’t have a box of smarts!”
The three men went to the next merchant and once again asked to buy a box of smarts. That merchant told them, “I can sell you pig’s brains. They taste yummy in scrambled eggs but they won’t make you any smarter!”
And so it went for the three men. Each merchant they asked laughed at them then offered to sell them something else. Then they finally came to a merchant who was not as honest as all the rest.
“A box of smarts?” he asked. “Those are rare and very expensive. Will you be able to afford it?”
“Um,” said one of the fools, “will 426 pieces of gold be enough?”
Barely able to hide his smile, the merchant replied, “Well, I usually sell a box of smarts for 500 pieces of gold, but you seem like such nice fellows that I’ll sell it to you for your 426 pieces.”
“Gosh, thanks mister!” said one of the noodleheads.
“Think nothing of it, my good man,” said the merchant. “You be here first thing tomorrow morning and I’ll have a box of smarts for you. Don’t forget to bring your money!”
Happy to have found what they needed, the three men agreed to meet the merchant the next morning and went off to sleep. The merchant, meanwhile, got a nice, sturdy wooden box, caught a mouse and sealed it in the box.
The next morning, the three fools returned to the merchant to buy the box of smarts. The merchant brought out the box with the mouse in it and placed it before the men. Inside the box, the mouse was scampering about, making all sorts of noise.
“What’s that noise?” the men asked.
“That?” said the merchant. “Why, that’s all the smarts trying to get out of the box! You must be very careful not to let it out. So don’t open the box until you get back to your village and are ready to start being smart!”
Handing over their 426 pieces of gold, the noodleheads promised they wouldn’t open the box until they got home. Pleased with themselves, they started walking back to their village. Pleased with himself, the merchant closed his shop and moved to another city.
It was mid afternoon when the three men got back to their village. Holding the box carefully, they called for everyone to gather in the village meeting hall.
“Once everyone is there,” they said, “we’ll open the box and we’ll all get smart!”
Soon the meeting hall was filled with everyone from village. Everyone was excited and looking forward to becoming smart.
The mayor took charge of the box and ordered the doors and windows shut. “We don’t want the smarts to get away before we can all catch some!”
Soon the meeting hall was sealed shut. With a grand gesture, the mayor opened the box to let the smarts out.
Everyone waited for a minute, expecting to feel something.
“Well,” asked a villager, “are we smart yet?”
“I don’t know,” replied the mayor. Turning to the three men who had bought the box, he asked, “Are you sure the box was full of smarts when you bought it?”
“Sure,” they said. “We could hear it scrabbling around in the box trying to get out!”
“Ah,” said the mayor, “after all of that scrabbling around the smarts must be too tired to come out of the box! I’ll just dump it out on the table and everyone can come up and get a piece of smarts for themselves.”
The mayor turned the box over and out came the mouse! The mouse tried to run but the mayor called out, “The mouse has eaten all the smarts! Catch it! Catch it!”
The villagers may have been noodleheads but they could move fast. One of the village boys quickly caught the mouse and, at the mayor’s direction, put the mouse back in the box.
“Now how are we going to get smart?” wailed the mayor.
“I know,” said one man, “we can each eat a little bit of the mouse! Then we’ll each get a little bit of the smarts the mouse ate.”
“That’s silly,” said another man. “The mouse is too small to cut into that many pieces! We should make a soup out of the mouse and all eat some. Then we’ll get smart!”
“You’re all fools and noodleheads!” said the oldest and wisest man in the village. “Why go to all that trouble when we’ve got the world’s smartest mouse right here in this box! We can just let the mouse make all our decisions for us!”
Everyone agreed that was a wonderful idea. And to this day, the mouse lives in a splendid cage with two boxes attached to each side of the cage. One box has “Yes” written on it and other has “No” written on it. Whenever the villagers have to make an important decision, they open the doors from the cage to the two boxes, ask their question and wait for the mouse to go to one of their boxes.
They’re still a bunch of silly noodleheads, but the mouse would prefer it if you don’t tell them that!