It is generally accepted that competition encourages innovation. Many assume that innovation comes with expenditures on R&D. This makes sense – if a company directs some of its people to think up new ideas, it is more likely new ideas will arise. However, I have always suspected that many innovations come about in unexpected and unusual ways, often not with directed effort. Here’s a true story of one such innovation that literally(!) involves a better mousetrap.

I woke up early yesterday morning and as I walked into my kitchen I heard a strange clicking noise. Tentatively, I approached the stove, the source of the noise. At first, I thought the noise was from the range fan and vent since it was very windy outside, but that wasn’t it. I turned on the stove light, since dawn’s light was still dim. I looked down to find something remarkable.

It is important to know that I have an electric stove with a perfectly flat surface: the heating elements are built into the surface. I also have a pot with a clear glass top. Well, when I looked down I discovered the top of the pot laying flat on the stove surface …. with a vole, or field mouse, trapped inside!!! I couldn’t believe it! He kept moving around trying to escape but he could only lift the lid enough to rattle it. How did he get under there? I’ll tell you in a minute.

First, what does one do with a live, scared and frustrated mouse stuck under a pot top on your stove? Lift the lid and I know he’s gonna scurry away. Brave as I am, I don’t wanna try to catch a scared rapidly-moving mouse. The solution seemed pretty simple. I quickly searched for a thin piece of cardboard and found a small box. I flattened the box and slid it under the lid. My mouse wasn’t too happy, but had no choice but to hop aboard as the new floor slid beneath his feet. Then I picked up the mouse in my pot top and released him in the field outside. A successful and humane mousetrap was created!

But how did he get under there? It’s simple my dear Watson!

I regularly boil water in that pot for tea. Afterwards the pot top is wet from the steam. Sometimes after boiling water, I would leave the top flat on the stove but the condensation would never disappear even after a long time. Thus, I began to tilt the top and lean one edge on the countertop next to the stove. Since the lid was propped up a little the water quickly evaporated.

This also afforded easy access for my mouse. Clearly, as he squeezed under the lid, he pushed the edge away from the counter and trapped himself. To my knowledge I have never had a mouse in my kitchen before. If I knew I had a mouse in my house, I know I would never have thought up this mousetrap idea. Instead I would probably have reverted to the old-fashioned (and deadly) mousetraps we used when I was a kid. Luckily though, I quite unexpectedly discovered a better mousetrap.

And I will use this device again since I think I heard another mouse (or the same one returned) yesterday afternoon. So last night I set up my new mousetrap. On the floor of my kitchen I propped the pot top lid up on a breadboard and put some peanuts and cracker pieces on the floor at the far end of the lid. If a mouse tries to eat the snacks, he will push the lid off the board and trap himself harmlessly.

I didn’t catch another mouse last night but I will let you know if my new mousetrap works again. In the meantime, if you know any stories of interesting and unexpected discoveries or innovations, please post them here. I’d like to create a collection. Thanks.