Write a Mozart Waltz With a Game He May Have Invented

John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images
John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is known for his musical genius, but for the rest of us, writing the kind of music he could dash off with his eyes closed isn’t exactly easy. But what if you could write a Mozart waltz without knowing a single note? It’s possible—thanks to an 18th-century dice game the maestro himself may have invented.

It’s called a Musikalisches Würfelspiel, a more German way of saying “musical dice game.” The concept is simple: Toss a few dice and use the corresponding numbers to select a short snippet of music. String together the music and voila—a waltz!

The game’s easy to play even if you don’t know any music—or have any dice. The concept, which is used by [PDF] computer science professors to teach their students about two-dimensional arrays and random number generation, has inspired student websites for years. These days, there’s even an app, Mozart Dice Game, to help you do it at home.

Although Mozart’s name is frequently attached to the game, it’s not really clear whether he invented it. Dice were popular in Mozart’s day, and similar games have been attributed to other masters like Joseph Haydn and C.P.E. Bach (son of the more famous Bach). Since Mozart was so popular, it’s possible that his name was simply added onto the game to earn more money. (And Mozart’s love of potty humor, games, and low culture—which would have included playing dice—is well known.)

But we do know that Mozart invented another musical game. When he died, a mysterious paper was apparently discovered in his archives. It includes 39 minuet fragments of two measures each, labeled by Mozart with the letters of the alphabet. Historians now think it’s a game—this one designed to use words and names to create a minuet, although there were no specific instructions included.

Mozart apparently saw music as child’s play, but it’s not clear if he actually used games to compose. That said, he seems to have liked composing while playing other games, like lawn bowling. Of course, having fun always makes music sound sweeter—and many of us might never compose a line without a game to begin with.

The Smithsonian Needs Your Help Transcribing Sally Ride’s Notebooks

Sally Ride in 1984.
Sally Ride in 1984.
Coffeeandcrumbs, NASA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

On June 18, 1983, Sally K. Ride made history when she became the first American woman to travel into space. Now, the Smithsonian Institution is making the history of her incredible decades-long career more accessible to everyone—and they need your help to do it.

The National Air and Space Museum Archives is home to the Sally K. Ride Papers, a collection of 38,640 physical pages (over 23 cubic feet) of material spanning Ride’s professional life as an astronaut, physicist, and educator from the 1970s to 2010s. Those resources have been scanned and used to create an online finding aid—not unlike a table of contents—so researchers can easily navigate through the wealth of information.

To simplify the searching process within that online finding aid, the Smithsonian Institution is asking for volunteers to transcribe documents in the Smithsonian’s Transcription Center, a digital hub launched in 2013, where anybody can sign up to type and review historical sources. Three projects from the Sally K. Ride Papers are currently available to transcribe, which include her notes for shuttle training between 1979 and 1981, notes about the Remote Manipulator System Arm (there's one on the International Space Station today), and notes from NASA commissions on which she served. One, for example, was the Rogers Commission, which investigated the causes of the fatal Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.

You can find out more about the documents in the projects here, and if you’re interested in joining the forces of “volunpeers,” as the Smithsonian likes to call its transcribers, you can create a new user account here. (All you’ll need is a username and email address.)

Check out more citizen science projects you can participate in at home here.

You Could Get Paid $1000 to Host a Remote The Office Watching Party

NBC
NBC

If getting paid to watch The Office sounds like a dream come true, well, you're in luck. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, Overheard on Conference Calls, an online resource that provides helpful guides to navigating the workplace, is paying one diehard fan $1000 to host a remote watch party of The Office.

"In a time when most states in the U.S. are under stay at home orders due to COVID-19 and words like social distancing are common, it can be tough to still remember there are good things out there. Two of those things are friendship and the television show The Office," the company said on their website.

But there are a few important requirements. According to the site, Overheard is looking for someone who loves the show, has accessibility to host a video call, and will watch 15 episodes in the span of one week with their friends.

You also need to be 18 years or older and a current resident of the United States. If you fit all these requirements, simply fill out this form by April 27.

Even if you aren't the lucky winner, you can still host an Office watch party while social distancing. Check out this free browser extension that allows you to watch Netflix with your friends.

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