'Wit And Wordplay' | Circle Round 49

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Think about a person you really like to hang out with.

Someone who always makes you smile.

What is it about this person that you like so much? What makes the two of you click?

There are a lot of things that draw us to other people… but first, we have to find them! In today’s story, we’ll hear about a man and woman who hope that when they finally meet their soulmate, it’ll also be a meeting… of the minds.

Our story is called “Wit and Wordplay.” Versions of this tale come from a bunch of places, including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Spain.

This week’s story, “Wit and Wordplay,” was adapted by Rebecca Sheir, and edited by Circle Round’s executive producer, Jessica Alpert. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our intern is Gabi Mrozowski. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

(Courtesy of Rachael MacFarlane)
(Courtesy of Rachael MacFarlane)

Special thanks to this week’s actors: Lisa Yuen, Dee Bradley Baker and Rachael MacFarlane. You can hear Dee Bradley Baker and Rachael MacFarlane in “American Dad!” on TBS. And kids: look for Rachael’s new book, Eleanor Wyatt, Princess and Pirate. It features illustrations by her husband, Spencer Laudiero, and was inspired by their daughters. You can find it at a bookstore or library near you.

The featured instrument in today’s story was the cello, played by guest artist Amy Domingues.

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening
Think about someone who keeps you on your toes…. someone who makes you think, and who challenges your mind.

Find a piece of paper, and draw a picture of you and that person doing something you enjoy. Maybe you’re reading books... maybe you’re doing a crossword puzzle… maybe you’re just talking, for hours and hours and hours. Whatever it is, capture that activity on paper… and, if you can, share it with the person you drew! Show him or her how much your minds are ‘in tune.’

Musical Spotlight:

(Courtesy of The National Museum of American History)
(Courtesy of The National Museum of American History)

The cello is the second-largest and second-lowest string instrument in the modern symphony orchestra (the double bass, which we used in “Stella and the Dragon,” wins the prize for largest and lowest!). Like its relatives — the violin, viola and double bass — you can play the cello’s strings with a bow, or pluck them with your fingers. The cello has been delighting audiences for centuries with its warm, rich tones - which some people compare to the human voice! Thus, given our story’s emphasis on language and wordplay, we thought the cello was a very apt fit.

Story Transcript
NARRATOR: There once was a king.

The king was a kind and generous ruler… and a wise and clever man. His subjects frequently came to him for advice, or for help settling an argument. Each and every time, the king would listen carefully, then offer a solution that left everybody smiling.

But despite the king’s natural gifts and well-deserved reputation... he was unhappy.

Because what he wanted more than anything in the world… was to find his soulmate. Someone to spend the rest of his life with.

The king didn’t care where his bride came from. He didn’t care if she was rich or poor. He didn’t care if she woke up early or slept in late.

The one thing he was picky about… very picky… was... her mind.

KING: Oh, how I wish I could find someone whose mind is in tune with my own! A wise, clever woman who craves knowledge like I do… who relishes language like I do… someone whose wit and wordplay will challenge me, and keep me on my toes... forever!

NARRATOR: The king’s advisers introduced him to plenty of very nice people… but none of them set his heart — or brain — on fire.


So the king devised a plan. He would disguise himself as a farmer, and travel across the kingdom. He would put forth three riddles, in hopes that his true soulmate would be able to solve them.

The king pulled on some overalls, laced up a pair of work boots, popped on a wide-brimmed hat, and… just as the sun was setting… he got on his horse. He figured he’d ride all night, then start his quest — and his test — first thing in the morning.

The disguised king and his horse were trotting down a dusty dirt road in the countryside when they caught up with another rider: a woman, whose small, grey donkey was poking along at a slow, steady pace.

The king noticed the woman was dressed like a farmer, too. His heart skipped a beat: a-ha! He could try out his test tonight!

KING: Good evening, my lady! How are you this fine evening?

NARRATOR: The farmer smiled when she noticed the king’s overalls, hat and boots. It was clear his disguise was working!

VIVIAN: I’m fine, thank you! It’s a pleasure meeting a fellow farmer way out here at this hour! Only, you don’t look familiar. Are you from around these parts?

NARRATOR: The king shrugged.

KING: Let’s just say I’m new to the farming business.

VIVIAN: Well, I’m heading home from market, and would love some company, if we’re heading the same way.

KING: It seems we are!

VIVIAN: Wonderful, then!

NARRATOR: As the horse and donkey walked down the road, the king took a deep breath. This was the moment he’d been waiting for.

KING: (bracing for the first riddle) So, miss... what do you say? (beat; very deliberately) Shall I carry you, or shall you carry me?

NARRATOR: The farmer furrowed her brow.

VIVIAN: (totally not getting it) Wait - what? I’m riding a donkey, and you’re riding a horse. Why should anyone “carry” anyone?

NARRATOR: The king took another breath. Okay, so the first riddle didn’t go so well. But he still had two more!

KING: (trying again) Hey! Would you get a load of this field?!

NARRATOR: The king pointed to a large plot of land they were passing. Its rows of golden wheat swayed in the evening breeze.

VIVIAN: (impressed) Hmm. It’s quite a beauty, isn’t it! I wish my wheat grew that full and tall!

KING: Right?!? (beat) I can’t help but wonder, though…

NARRATOR: The king arched an eyebrow.

KING: (very deliberately) ...has the wheat already been eaten?

NARRATOR: The farmer cocked her head.

VIVIAN: (not getting it) Wait - what? Obviously, the wheat is still growing… in the ground... so how could it ‘already be eaten’?

NARRATOR: The king felt his heart drop. But he did have one riddle left. He swept his hand out toward the horizon.

KING: Look! Do you see that tower? Over yonder?

NARRATOR: The farmer squinted her eyes.

VIVIAN: Yes! It looks mighty and strong!

KING: It does look mighty and strong... on the outside.

NARRATOR: His eyes grew wide.

KING: (very deliberately) ...but could it be weak inside the walls?

NARRATOR: The farmer was too baffled to answer. Just then, her donkey came to a halt.

VIVIAN: (perhaps relieved at the convenient timing of her arrival, but still a tad awkward) Well, here’s my farm! It was, uh, nice meeting you…

NARRATOR: The king sighed.

KING: You too.

NARRATOR: He was disappointed that he hadn’t found his soulmate — but hey, it was only his first day! As he began to ride off, the farmer called out.

VIVIAN: Hey! Look. It’s getting late, and cold, and there are no inns or hotels for miles around. If you don’t have a place to stay tonight, you and your horse are more than welcome to sleep in our stable.

NARRATOR: The king smiled.

KING: Thank you, miss. I’d be much obliged.

NARRATOR: So the king led his horse into the stable, and they hunkered down for the night.

Now it just so happens that the farmer — whose name was Vivian, by the way — lived on the farm with her younger sister… whose name was Esther.

Esther was a teacher. Every day, she helped spark her students’ curiosity, and get them excited about exploring new subjects and gaining new wisdom.

But even though Esther enjoyed her job, very much... she was unhappy.

Because what she wanted more than anything in the world… was a soulmate. Someone to share her life with.

But she didn’t want to marry just anyone.

ESTHER: Oh, how I wish I could find someone whose mind is in tune with my own! A wise, clever man who craves knowledge like I do… who relishes language like I do… someone whose wit and wordplay will challenge me, and keep me on my toes... forever!

NARRATOR: Sound familiar?

Yeah, I thought so. More on that later.

For now… Esther was in her usual nighttime spot — nestled beneath the covers, curled up with a book — when her big sister, Vivian, came bursting into the bedroom.

VIVIAN: Esther! Get your nose out of that book! You will not believe the conversation I just had out on the road! It was sooooo weird.

NARRATOR: Esther smiled as Vivian plopped down on her bed.

ESTHER: (smiling) “Sooooo weird,” huh? Tell me about it.

VIVIAN: I don’t even know where to begin! It was the strangest thing ever!

[...So, I meet this guy, okay, and he looks like a farmer, and I’m so happy to see another farmer out on the road that we start riding together. But then he starts asking me all sorts of questions... really weird questions. First, he asks if one of us should carry the other…]]

NARRATOR: Vivian told Esther all about their new visitor in the stable. How he and his horse had approached her on the road, and how he’d asked her three very odd questions. Like who should carry whom…?

VIVIAN: .. when clearly — helloooo! — we’re both riding!

[fade down again, maintain beneath Narrator’s next line] [[...Then we see this field of wheat, and this crop is just gorgeous, all tall and golden, and he asks if it’s already been eaten!]]

NARRATOR: ...whether the wheat had already been eaten…?

VIVIAN: But, like — duh! — it’s growing right there! In the field!

[...And finally — you’ll love this — finally, he points to this tower off in the distance, and it looks really strong, but he asks if it’s maybe ‘weak inside the walls’?!?]]

NARRATOR: ...and, last but not least, if the tower that looked strong on the outside might actually be weak on the inside.

VIVIAN:  ...I mean, what is that? ‘Weak but strong,’ ‘strong but weak’...? (beat) It’s totally bonkers, right?

NARRATOR: For a moment, Esther said nothing. She lowered her eyes... and when she raised them again, they were sparkling.

ESTHER: (taking it all in, impressed) Oh, sister. It’s not bonkers at all. (beat) It’s brilliant.

[theme music in]

NARRATOR: What do you think Esther means? Does she know the answers to the king’s riddles?

We’ll find out, after a quick break.

[theme music out]


[theme music in]

NARRATOR: Welcome back to Circle Round. I’m Rebecca Sheir. Today, our story is called “Wit and Wordplay.”

[theme music out]

NARRATOR: When we left off, Vivian the farmer had just told her sister, Esther the teacher, about an odd encounter she had on the way home. Little did Vivian know, the odd encounter... was with the king. He was disguised as a farmer, in hopes of finding his soulmate somewhere out in his kingdom.

The king had asked Vivian three riddles. To her, they sounded like nonsense. But when she repeated the king’s three questions to Esther, the younger sister declared them to be…

ESTHER: Brilliant.

NARRATOR: For the fourth time that night, Vivian was confused.

VIVIAN: (not getting it) Wait - what?

ESTHER: Listen. When this fellow on the road asked which one of you “shall carry” the other, what he meant was: shall I tell you a story? Or shall you tell me a story? (beat) Think about it. A long ride always feels so much shorter and so much easier if you’re listening to a tale. It’s almost like the storyteller is carrying the person who’s listening!


VIVIAN: (sort of getting it) Ohhhh…

ESTHER: (getting more excited/into it) And when this man asked about the wheat, and if it had ‘already been eaten’... he was talking about the harvest! (beat) Think about it: maybe the owners of the field were in debt, and they owed someone a lot of money. So, maybe they sold the harvest in advance. In that case, it’s like the wheat has already been eaten! I mean, if they sold it already, it isn’t like the owners can eat it themselves!

VIVIAN: (getting it a little more) Uh-huh… okay….So... what about the tower?

NARRATOR: Esther clapped her hands with glee.

ESTHER: (with glee) Oh, the tower! When he pointed to this seemingly strong tower and suggested it might be weak inside, what he meant was: maybe the people within its walls are hungry! And thirsty! (beat) Think about it: if they don’t have enough food to eat, and water to drink, then their bodies will be weak! (beat) See what I mean? (beat) Brilliant!

VIVIAN: Wow… I have to admit it, sis: you and this guy would make quite a pair!

NARRATOR: Esther blushed.

ESTHER: (blushing) Oh, I don’t know about that…

NARRATOR: Vivian flashed her younger sister a knowing smile, wished her goodnight, then headed off to bed.

Esther, meanwhile, gazed out her window. The full moon was casting a silver glow on the stable where the visitor was sleeping.

ESTHER: (excited) Could it be? Is Vivian right? Have I found my soulmate? (beat, to herself) Not so fast, Esther. This man has tested my wisdom. Now it’s my chance to test his… (starting to strategize, the wheels are turning) with a little food for thought!

NARRATOR: The next morning, the disguised king was still asleep when Vivian and Esther met in the kitchen for breakfast.

ESTHER: Vivian, listen - before we eat, I need you to bring our guest... this.

NARRATOR: Esther handed Vivian... a tray. On it were three things: a crusty loaf of wheat bread, golden and round… a tall glass of milk, filled to the brim… and a bowl containing thirty hard-boiled eggs.

ESTHER: Please, offer this breakfast to our visitor in the stable. Then, ask him three questions. (beat, carefully) First, is the sun whole? Second: is the moon full? And third: how many days are left in the month? (beat) After that, come back to me with his answers.

NARRATOR: Vivian had no idea what her younger sister was up to, but she agreed.

On her way to the stable, Vivian realized how hungry she was; she and Esther hadn’t eaten yet and her stomach was growling! Quickly, Vivian ripped a hunk off the crusty, round loaf of golden-wheat bread and stuffed it in her mouth. She washed it down with some milk, then she devoured two hard-boiled eggs.

When Vivian reached the stable, she presented the tray to the disguised king. She said it was from her sister, Esther. Vivian told the visitor how Esther had answered his three questions… the ones he had posed out on the dusty, dirt road… and now, her younger sister had three questions of her own.

As Vivian repeated each of Esther’s questions, the king’s smile grew wider and wider. He looked down at the tray, and peered at the bread, milk and eggs.

KING: Hmmm… Well, first… please tell your sister that no: the sun is not whole. Likewise, the moon is not full; it’s missing a sliver. As for how many days are left in the month…? Please tell her we have twenty-eight days left.

NARRATOR: Vivian was puzzled. It was a clear day out, and the bright yellow sun sure looked “whole” to her! They definitely had a full moon last night. And they were halfway through the month! What did this guy mean, there were twenty-eight days left?

Vivian left the tray in the stable, then returned to the kitchen. When she told her younger sister the visitor’s answers, Esther’s face brightened.

ESTHER: Vivian, tell me: did you bring our visitor all the food I gave you? All the bread, all the milk, and all the eggs?

NARRATOR: Vivian confessed she hadn’t. She’d taken one hunk from the crusty round loaf of golden-wheat bread... a quick sip of milk... and two hard-boiled eggs.

Esther clapped her hands together, and laughed. Then she nodded toward the bread.

ESTHER: (amused, carefully) So, in other words… the sun — the round, golden sun — it’s not whole!

NARRATOR: Next, she pointed at the milk.

ESTHER: And the milky white moon… it isn’t full!

NARRATOR: Then, she gestured toward the eggs.

ESTHER: And you ate two eggs, right, sister? So, of those thirty days in the month, two are missing… which means twenty-eight days are left! (beat) (marveling to herself) He got it!

KING: (watching all this time) Well, admittedly, they weren’t easy questions to crack… coming from a ‘good egg’ like yourself!

NARRATOR: Esther spun around. In the doorway, she saw a smiling man, dressed like a farmer. She fixed her eyes on his.

ESTHER: (playful) “Easy questions to crack,” you say? Or would they be... ‘over-easy’...?

KING: (more playful, but feels something very real going on here) I don’t know. Depends how much you want your brains... ‘scrambled.’

ESTHER: (even more playful, with a frisson of ‘is this really happening?’) ...or... ‘fried’!

KING: (building) ...if not ‘whisked’ away completely!

ESTHER: (building) Maybe we should take a few minutes to boil all of this down!

KING: (playful but growing sincere) ...Or maybe we should take...

NARRATOR: The king blushed.

KING: (very sincerely)… a lifetime.

NARRATOR: (beat) Well, I think you can guess what happened after that.

The king revealed who he really was, and he and Esther began spending more and more time in each other’s company. Once they were certain that their minds were, indeed, ‘in tune’... they got married.

He became her king, and she became his queen.


Together, they ruled over the kingdom fairly, and peacefully. And they spent every day craving knowledge… relishing language… and keeping each other on their toes with their wit and wordplay… forever.

Headshot of Rebecca Sheir

Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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