A tactic whereby a character acts in a manner that can be perceived as eccentric or insane, in order to prompt other, bickering, characters into cooperation. This usually happens because of shared concern for the welfare of the first character, or a joint desire to "not upset the crazy person." When it works, it results in An Aesop about cooperation and conflict resolution.
Named for the classic folk tale in which a strange wanderer breezes into town and offers everyone a free bowl of his remarkable stone soup (made by putting his soupstone — a seemingly ordinary rock — into a pot of water and boiling it). The suspicious villagers have hidden their food, but the stranger slowly persuades them to add it to the pot, a little at a time, until at last they have contributed all the potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, beef, turnips, parsley, salt, pepper, tomatoes, and bread to make a real meal.
This story tends to be played for An Aesop, but the moral varies depending on how the teller wants to spin the tale. In one version, the villagers realize that cooperation is better than competition and suspicion; they have enough food among them to feed everyone a good meal, if they share it. In another (far more cynical) version, the stranger is playing a well-rehearsed Con Game: blinded by the promise of "free" food, the villagers never catch on and ultimately spend all their money to buy the stranger's magical soup stone, becoming victims of their own greed. In this case, the Aesop is more like "If it sounds Too Good to Be True, it probably is."
For the comic strip, see here.
- A Walt Disney comic of uncertain vintage once played with this trope by having Gyro Gearloose attempt to make stone soup using "concentrated stone juice".
- Similarly, in the 1970s Disney book Button Soup, Daisy Duck did this by starting with a single clothing button.
- In the Archie Comics story "Rock On!" (no longer online?), Jughead makes a "rock hamburger" to lure people away from Reggie's barbecue.
- Referenced and subverted in Fables. When Jack tries to sell soup stones. Snow White mentions she kept hers, which implies that here, Soup Stones are actually magical.
- Soup stones are also an alchemical item in Dungeons & Dragons, even coming in different flavours.
- The earliest known printed version of the folk tale was published in 1720, one year after the death of its author, French journalist Madame de Noyer. Her version is set in Normandy, with two Jesuit priests as the benevolent tricksters and a house full of children rather than presumably adult villagers.
- The Russian version of the tale features a particularly bright soldier tricking a miserly landlady to give him ingredients for making a pot of cereal by making "a hand axe cereal".
- Another Russian variant is the traveler uses a spare button to make "button borscht".
- Used in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, as Jack begins rocking the boat, pretending to see something. The others follow, at first out of curiosity, but eventually they catch on.
- Possibly inverted in Discworld, where, among bickering, arguing and ignorant nobles, Lord Vetinari has them form committees, telling them to brainstorm solutions. The real reason he does this is to get them all out of the way so he can work out the problem with people who know what they're talking about.
- Robert A. Heinlein likes the "form a committee to get all the idiots out of the way" version. Lazarus Long does it in the novel Methuselah's Children, as does Professor Bernardo de la Paz in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by setting up an Ad-Hoc Congress stocked with all of the blowhard do-nothings.
- It backfired in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress when the Congress actually gets work done.
- The "get rid of the idiots" version also occurs in the backstory of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; the Golgafrinchan homeworld is threatened by a meteor, so they put all the thinkers on one ship, the doers on another, and the middlemen like hair stylists and phone cleaners on a third...and then send the third away, having made up the meteor story in order to "clear the chaff" from their society. The rest of the Golgafrinchans die off from a disease contracted from a literal dirty telephone, while the "useless" members of their civilization land on an insignificant blue planet and use their advanced technology to build a floating city, which turns out to be a terrible idea.
- In Aleksander Fredro's fable The Gypsy and The Woman, a gypsy tricks a greedy woman to give him ingredients for making porridge by making "a nail soup".
- Played with in P Howard's Captain Dirty Fred. The eponymous captain is so universally disliked that people would do anything just to not be on his side. People he agrees with will immediately change their oppinion, people he wants to see dead instantly become loved and supported by everyone, and generally, any time he's around, the most disorganized gangs that were at each other's throats suddenly become best friends and can get almost everything done working together, as long as they do the opposite of what Fred tells them. And of course, every single time they play into his hands, seeing how Fred is an agent of the Intelligence Service, and uses his cranky old man persona to manipulate the other pirates into serving his country.
- The Australian children's book Wombat Stew features an inverted take on the fable wherein a group of bush animals save the titular wombat from being eaten by a dingo by offering intentionally disgusting ingredients for the stew. Subsequently, when the dingo is convinced to taste-test the stew before adding the wombat, he is so disgusted by the mixture that he gives up on the endeavor entirely.
- In an episode of Land of the Lost, Rick has had enough of Will and Holly fighting over a trivial issue and pretends to have snapped. By cooking "stone soup" and eliciting their help in finding "a few extra ingredients", the father teaches them what their real priorities ought to be. Later in the episode, he pulls the same trick on the Pakuni leader Taa, though for a different purpose.
- Little House on the Prairie had a similar episode.
- The original folk tale was retold on Jim Henson's The Storyteller. However, the usual Aesop is interestingly subverted when the cook figures out he's been had and angrily demands that the stone-soup maker be boiled alive. His attempts to avoid punishment make up the rest of the episode.
- Gen. George S. Patton wrote in his memoirs that during the supply crisis caused by his rapid drive across France, some of the units under his command made further advances this way, first getting just enough fuel to make a reconnaissance in force, then deliberately getting involved in fighting that required notable reinforcements and, of course, extra supplies.