Friday, March 14, 2008


Hey kids, it’s March 14th and you know what that means….it’s Pi Day! Yaaaay! You remember pi, that adorable little mathematical constant that we all learned about back in school. No? Need a refresher? Here you go (and do I need to mention that I am not recalling this from my own memory?)

Pi is a little word with a big meaning. According to Wikipedia, “It represents the ratio of the area of a circle to the square of its radius.” Got that? Just wait, it gets worse. “It is an irrational number, which means that its decimal expansion never ends or repeats. Indeed: beyond being irrational, it is a transcendental number, which means that no finite sequence of algebraic operations on integers (powers, roots, sums, etc.) could ever produce it. Throughout the history of mathematics, much effort has been made to determine π more accurately and understand its nature; fascination with the number has even carried over into culture at large.”

So, pi is beyond being irrational, huh. Well, who doesn’t know someone like that?! Anyway, it means pi quite literally goes on forever (and the party never ends!) Since Pi Day has been celebrated on this date every year since 1988, I think there’s a good chance it will go on forever. At least as long as there are math geeks in the world. But why March 14, you ask? Well, that’s because the value of pi is conveniently shortened, as is recommended with a number that goes on forever, and it gets shortened to 3.14. Or, March 14th. If you take pi to a few more traditional decimal places to 3.1415926 you get a real ‘pi moment” - March 14 at 1:59:26 p.m. On Pi Day, celebrants often tromp around is circles for a while, then break to consume pies (dessert, pizza, whatever). You could find worse ways to spend one afternoon a year.

As for the part about being carried over into the culture, get this. MIT sends out acceptance letters so that they arrive on Pi Day. Sometimes Pi Day is also an opportunity for just plain showing off. On March 14, 2004, a fellow named Daniel Tammet recited from memory 22514 decimal places of pi. Amazing! And he did it on one breath, too! (no he didn’t, I’m just goofin’ around).

At this point you might be thinking that this whole Pi business is kind of silly. Who, beyond the aforementioned math geeks, really cares? What possible significance could it have? Well, what if I told you that March 14th was also the birthday of one Albert Einstein. Yup. Coincidence? Cue the electro-theremin music! (for an explanation of that, see tomorrow’s post). And now, the part you’ve been waiting for the music! For this, we’re going to dip way back into the vintage years, to the 1940s. Too bad we can't serve pie online!

Song by Irving Berlin, played by Glenn Miller, vocals by The Modernaires

Baby Boomers may remember this commercial from the late50s/early 60s

Before I go, I might as well take this opportunity to include one of my fave non-vintage songs by those real bad hombres, The Highwaymen (aka Kris, Willie, Waylon, Johnny). And a very clever YouTube video, too.

photo: Dan Parsons/Wikimedia Creative Commons


Quiet Paths said...

Man, I am behind it all; I didn't know about PI day! I sent this onto our sons who got a kick out of it.

Deborah Godin said...

I bet they are "down" with the numbers, and not mathematically challenged, like moi...