I soar without wings.
I see without eyes.
I have no limits, yet you can hold me in your hand.
What am I?
The answer to this riddle is: your brain!
Your brain is the strongest thing you have. And we’re about to meet a character who uses her quick-thinking, clever brain to save her family!
Our story is called “Katya the Quick.” It’s inspired by tales from the Jewish tradition - particularly the eastern European country of Ukraine and the Middle Eastern country of Yemen.
Voices in this episode include Ryan Dalusung, Igor Shimelonis, Dawn Ursula, Etai Benson, and Susannah Flood.
Etai Benson is currently starring in the Broadway production of Company, nominated for nine Tony Awards. He originated the role of Papi in the Tony Award-winning musical The Band’s Visit, and is a Grammy Award winner as Principal Soloist on The Band’s Visit Original Broadway Cast Album.
You grown-ups may recognize Susannah Flood from For The People on ABC and the Hulu original series Life and Beth. She’s also appearing on Broadway at the American Airlines Theatre in Birthday Candles, now playing through May 29th.
This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Nora Saks and Circle Round’s supervising producer Amory Sivertson. Original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.
ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, 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
See if you can guess this riddle:
I’m not a shirt, yet I’m sewn.
I’m not a tree, yet I’m full of leaves.
I’m not alive, yet I talk wisely.
What am I?
Think you know the answer? Send your guess to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll announce the answer on Instagram and Facebook soon. You can find us @circleroundpodcast.
Musical Spotlight: The Hammered Dulcimer
The hammered dulcimer is a trapezoid-shaped instrument with strings running across its body. To play the instrument, you strike the strings with hammers.
No one is certain about the true origins of the hammered dulcimer, but experts believe the instrument showed up in Persia around 900 A.D. It was brought to North Africa, then to western Europe and eastern Europe, then to China, Thailand and Korea. In the early 1700s it made its way to North America, where some settlers called it the whamadiddle or hackbrett (“chopping board” in German).
As the dulcimer has evolved in different countries, it has developed different designs and names, from China’s Yangqin and Korea’s Yanggeum… to India’s Santoor and Ukraine’s Tsymbaly… to Italy’s Salterio and Spain’s Dulcémele.
NARRATOR: Igor, Katya, and their young son Levi had nothing to their names but a small patch of land and a chestnut-colored horse named Clementine.
Igor and Katya worked hard. Yet they couldn’t afford to buy even a fraction of the things the family needed. As a result, their walls were drafty, their roof was leaky, and more often than not, their meals consisted of nothing more than…
LEVI: …Cabbage soup?!!!? Again?!?
IGOR: We know, son. Times have been hard lately.
KATYA: Your dad is right, Levi. But hey! Things can only get better! In the meantime… what do you say we lighten up the mood – with a riddle?!
NARRATOR: If there was one thing Katya loved – in addition to her beloved husband and son, of course – it was dreaming up a good riddle. And she did it all the time.
KATYA: Okay, guys. See if you can guess this one... ‘I spread a net, but I’m not a fisherman. I catch things, but never a fish.’ What am I?
NARRATOR: Igor and Levi adored Katya’s riddles. And every now and again…
LEVI: I know what you are, Mommy!
NARRATOR: …they knew the answer.
LEVI: Are you… a spider?
KATYA: That’s right, Levi! A spider!
NARRATOR: But most of the time…
KATYA: ‘What has a mouth… but is unable to eat?’
NARRATOR: …they were stumped.
LEVI: This is a tough one, Mommy!
IGOR: A real tough one!
LEVI: Do you know the answer, Daddy?
IGOR: I’m afraid I don’t, kiddo. Do you?
LEVI: I don’t! Mommy, tell us! What has a mouth but is unable to eat?
KATYA: Wellllll… It’s a river!!!
LEVI: A river! That’s a good one!
IGOR: A very good one! It’s official, Levi. Your mother is the quickest and cleverest woman in all the world!
NARRATOR: One morning, after Levi went off to school, Igor walked out to the field, only to discover…
IGOR: Oh my!!!
NARRATOR: …a baby horse! A skinny little colt, staggering about on its spindly legs.
IGOR: Look at you! I knew Clementine was expecting a baby, but I didn’t know you’d be coming so soon! And what are you doing out in the field, instead of in the stable? Well, no matter. Welcome to our family, little one!
GIDEON: Welcome to “our” family…???
NARRATOR: Igor turned and saw his next-door neighbor, a gruff and untrustworthy farmer named Gideon.
GIDEON: “Our” family…?!? That colt belongs to my family! My mare was expecting a baby, too!
IGOR: I had no idea, Gideon! You never told me your mare was pregnant!
GIDEON: That’s because I… uh… I… you know…
NARRATOR: As Gideon stuttered and stammered, Igor could immediately tell: his neighbor was lying.
GIDEON: …it’s because I… uhhh… I… ummmm… Look! It doesn’t matter why I never told you! The point is, that creature is mine!
IGOR: But look at him! He’s the spitting image of his mother! He’s got Clementine’s chestnut-colored coat, her chocolate-brown mane, her – [SOT: gets interrupted]
GIDEON: So you say! But I say the colt belongs to me! And I say we take this dispute… to the Queen!!!
NARRATOR: The Queen was brand new to the throne. But word had it she was a very fair ruler, with an eye toward justice.
So Igor and Gideon went to the palace and stood before the Queen.
QUEEN: Greetings, gentlemen! What can I do for you today?
NARRATOR: The Queen listened carefully as Igor and Gideon explained their situation. When they were done, she flashed both men a smile.
QUEEN: So… you both claim the colt is yours, eh? Well, here’s what we’re going to do. Instead of deciding this case, I will ask both of you a series… of riddles.
GIDEON: Riddles, Your Majesty…?
QUEEN: Yes, Gideon! A series of puzzling questions posed as a problem to be solved or guessed!
GIDEON: With all due respect, Your Majesty, I know what riddles are. I was just surprised, is all!
NARRATOR: Igor, on the other hand, was delighted. After all, you know how much he and his family enjoyed riddles!
IGOR: Your Majesty, are you saying that whoever provides an answer to your riddles will get the baby horse?
QUEEN: That’s precisely what I’m saying, Igor! Only in this case, I’m not so much seeking answers… as items.
I will describe to you three different items. The one who brings me all three items will get the baby horse! So let’s begin!
The first item I seek causes no pain, no sorrow, yet makes everyone weep.
The second item is in every book, and speaks every language, yet makes not a sound.
And the third item can fill an entire room, yet you can hold it in your hand.
Think about these three riddles, gentlemen. Then bring me your items tomorrow.
NARRATOR: When Igor returned home, he told Katya and Levi about the baby colt, and his meeting with the new Queen.
LEVI: Wow, Daddy! I can’t believe you met a real Queen! What are the three items she wants you to bring?
IGOR: The first is something that causes no pain, no sorrow, yet makes everyone weep. The second is something that’s in every book, and speaks every language, yet makes not a sound. And the third is something that can fill an entire room, yet you can hold it in your hand. Do you have any ideas, kiddo?
NARRATOR: Levi scrunched up his forehead.
LEVI: Ummmm… weeeellllll…? No. I don’t. But I know someone who might! Mommy…?
NARRATOR: All this time, Katya had been sitting quietly, listening to her husband’s story with a little smile on her face.
LEVI: Mommy! Surely you know the answers to the Queen’s riddles! Right…?
KATYA: Well, as a matter of fact…
NARRATOR: Katya’s eyes twinkled brighter than the jewels in the Queen’s crown.
KATYA: …I do know the answers! I’ll spend the evening gathering a few things, and then tomorrow…? That baby horse will rightfully be ours!
[theme music in]
NARRATOR: What do you think are the answers to the Queen’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 “Katya the Quick.”
[theme music out]
NARRATOR: Before the break, a deceitful farmer named Gideon was trying to claim Igor’s new baby horse as his own. The neighbors went to the Queen, who told them she would award the horse to whomever brought her three items: something that causes no pain, no sorrow, yet makes everyone weep. Something that’s in every book, and speaks every language, yet makes not a sound. And something that can fill an entire room, yet you can hold it in your hand.
Igor’s wife, Katya, was a quick-thinking, clever woman. The next morning, she sent Igor off to the palace with a small wooden chest.
KATYA: Here are the items the Queen seeks, my darling. But be careful. Some of them are a little bit fragile.
IGOR: Thank you, my love! It really is true: you are the quickest and cleverest woman in all the land!
NARRATOR: When Igor reached the throne room, he approached the Queen with a bow.
QUEEN: Good morning, Igor! I’m pleased to see you. Your neighbor Gideon just left. He told me he had no idea how to solve my riddles but he begged me to give him the baby horse anyway.
IGOR: And what did you say, Your Majesty?
QUEEN: I said no, of course! I would never let him get off that easy! But now that you’re here, Igor… have you come bearing answers to my riddles? Or are you going to beg my mercy as well?
IGOR: Actually, I have come bearing answers to your riddles, Your Majesty! I believe they’re right here in this chest!
QUEEN: Wonderful! Well then! Let’s see the first item. The one that causes no pain, no sorrow, yet makes everyone weep.
IGOR: Of course, Your Majesty.
NARRATOR: Igor lifted the lid of the chest and peered inside. Then he reached in and pulled out…
QUEEN: …An onion!
IGOR: (Not entirely getting how an onion is the answer) Yes, Your Majesty! An onion! (unsure) Is that correct…?
QUEEN: It is! An onion causes no pain or sorrow, but slice into it and your eyes will water and water! Very good, Igor! Where's my next item? The one that is in every book, and speaks every language, yet makes not a sound?
IGOR: I believe I have that one, too, Your Majesty.
NARRATOR: Again, Igor stuck his hand into the chest and lifted out…
QUEEN: A bottle of ink!
IGOR: Indeed, Your Majesty! A bottle of ink! Is that what you were looking for…?
QUEEN: Indeed, I was! After all, we use ink to print all our books, in every language, yet it remains as silent as newly-fallen snow! Bravo, Igor! Now how about my third item? The one that can fill an entire room, yet you can hold it in your hand?
IGOR: I’m pretty sure I have it right here, Your Majesty.
NARRATOR: Once more, Igor reached into the box and brought out…
QUEEN: A candle!
IGOR: Exactly, Your Majesty! A candle! Is this the answer you were seeking…?
QUEEN: It absolutely is! A candle fills a room with light, yet it’s small enough to grasp in your hand – carefully, of course.
NARRATOR: The Queen jumped up from her throne and took Igor by the hand.
QUEEN: Igor! You’ve solved my riddles beautifully! The baby horse is yours! You must be a very quick and clever man to come up with all those items by yourself!
NARRATOR: Igor was an honest fellow. And his conscience wouldn’t let him take credit for solving the Queen’s riddles.
IGOR: Actually, Your Majesty… it’s my wife who’s the quick and clever one! Katya has never met a riddle she can’t solve!
NARRATOR: The Queen was impressed… and intrigued. You see, the new sovereign was still building up her staff, hiring people to be cooks and butlers, dressmakers and footmen.
The trickiest job she was looking to fill was that of royal adviser: a wise soul who could help her make decisions and solve problems. At the mention of Igor’s clever wife, the Queen got an idea.
QUEEN: So… your wife… Katya… she’s the one who solved my riddles?!?
IGOR: Yes, Your Majesty. It wasn’t me at all.
QUEEN: I see... I wonder if Katya can do something for me. I will send you home with one tuft of cotton, newly picked from the royal cotton fields. Tell Katya she must use this cotton to spin a hundred yards of cloth!
NARRATOR: Igor was confused.
IGOR: With all due respect, Your Majesty. How can one tuft of cotton be used to spin a hundred yards of cloth? I don’t think you’d even get an inch!
QUEEN: That is for Katya to figure out! If she truly is as quick and clever as you say she is, she will find an answer.
NARRATOR: Igor had all the faith in the world in his wife, but this task seemed downright impossible! So he went back home and told Katya about the Queen’s challenge.
KATYA: You say the Queen wants me to use this one tuft of cotton to spin a hundred yards of cloth…?
IGOR: That’s right!
KATYA: Well in that case…
NARRATOR: Katya ran outside and came back with a tiny twig.
KATYA: You tell the Queen that I can't spin a hundred yards of cloth unless she can turn this twig into a spinning wheel, for me to spin the cotton into cloth!
NARRATOR: So the next day, Igor went back to the palace and told the Queen what Katya said. When he showed the monarch the twig, her face broke into a grin.
QUEEN: A-haaaa! I like the way your wife thinks! But I want to get a closer look inside her head. So… I will send you home with one-dozen eggs, newly laid by the royal chickens. Tell your wife she must hatch these eggs, raise the chicks into full-grown chickens, then bring me a dozen of those chickens’ eggs! By tomorrow!
NARRATOR: Again, Igor was perplexed.
IGOR: Not to cast doubt on what you say, Your Majesty, but if those eggs were just laid, it could be weeks before they hatch! Yet you want my wife to hatch the eggs… and raise the chickens… and bring you their eggs… by tomorrow?? How is that even possible?!?
QUEEN: Like I said yesterday, that is for your wife to figure out! If she truly is as quick and clever as you say she is, she will find an answer.
NARRATOR: So again, Igor went back home and told Katya about the Queen’s newest challenge.
KATYA: You say the Queen wants me to hatch these eggs… and raise the chickens… and bring her their eggs… by tomorrow?
IGOR: That’s correct!
KATYA: Well in that case…
NARRATOR: Katya hurried to the kitchen and came back holding a single sunflower seed.
KATYA: You tell the queen that I cannot possibly feed all of the chickens I raise in order for them to lay eggs! So she must plant this sunflower seed…let the flower grow… then harvest its seeds… and deliver those seeds so we can feed the chickens... by tomorrow.
NARRATOR: So the following day, Igor went back to the palace and told the Queen what Katya said. When he showed the monarch the sunflower seed… she beamed.
QUEEN: My, my, my! Your wife is good! I dare say I’d like to meet her myself. Tell her to come visit me tomorrow… and tell her to come neither with a gift, nor without one.
NARRATOR: Again, Igor was baffled.
IGOR: Not to speak out of turn, Your Majesty, but how can someone possibly show up with and without a gift?
QUEEN: Like I said yesterday, and the day before, that is for Katya to figure out! If she truly is as quick and clever as you say she is, she will find an answer.
NARRATOR: So yet again, Igor went back home and told Katya about the Queen’s newest challenge.
KATYA: You say the Queen wants me to come visit her, neither with a gift nor without one?
IGOR: Those were her exact words!
KATYA: Well in that case…
NARRATOR: Katya’s eyes lit up with excitement.
KATYA: …I’ll be there! You and Levi can come, too!
NARRATOR: So the next morning, Igor, Katya, and Levi traveled to the palace and met the Queen in her throne room.
QUEEN: Good morning, Igor! And you must be Katya! Oh! And who is this fine young man?
LEVI: My name is Levi, Your Majesty!
QUEEN: Pleased to meet you, Levi. I’ve heard you have a very clever mother.
LEVI: Oh! She’s the quickest and cleverest woman in all the world!
QUEEN: Well, in that case…
NARRATOR: The Queen turned her eyes toward Katya.
QUEEN: ...Perhaps you can show me what you’ve come with, Katya.
KATYA: It would be my pleasure, Your Majesty. (beat) I have come… with this.
NARRATOR: Katya opened her hand and held out… a live sparrow. Instantly, the brown bird flapped its wings and took flight. The Queen watched as the bird fluttered out the window and up toward the sky.
At first, she didn’t say a word. But then a wide, dazzling grin spread across her face.
QUEEN: You did it, Katya! You came neither with a gift nor without one! Brilliant! And now I have a gift for you.
NARRATOR: The Queen reached under her throne, then held out a beautiful robe of purple velvet.
QUEEN: I’ve been saving this robe for my new royal advisor. And now that you’ve more than proven yourself, Katya, I’d like that advisor… to be you. You and your family can live in the palace, in utmost comfort. You can even bring that chestnut-colored horse of yours, and her beautiful baby. So…? Will you join me?
NARRATOR: For Katya, this question was no riddle at all.
KATYA: Yes, Your Majesty. It would be our honor to join you.
NARRATOR: And so Katya, Igor, and Levi – and Clementine and her baby – they all moved into the royal palace.
And even though Katya spent her days tying her mind in knots as she helped the Queen unravel problems… she and her family lived in utmost comfort for the rest of their lives.