The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

How to observe Pi Day 2015


Tomorrow is 3/14/15, which is a super-special Pi Day that comes around only once a century. (That is, if you ignore that 3/14/15 is only special using standard American date-writing conventions. But why not?) While traditionally, Pi Day is celebrated on 3/14 at 1:59, this year you can celebrate on 3/14/15 at 9:26.

What can you do to celebrate the greatest mathematical constant? A start would be to bake a pie in a "pi" pan (e.g., something like this or this; this is the type of pan that I have at home).

Then, bust out the mnemonics and poetry! Let me remind everyone of my own contribution to pi: a mnemonic for 167 digits of pi, which I developed with some friends in the mid-'90s.

Many people know the common mnemonic: "How I need a drink, alcoholic of course, after the tough lectures involving quantum mechanics." Count the number of letters in each word and stick a decimal point after the 3, and you get: 3.14159265358979, which is already more than you need for most purposes. The thirty-second digit after the decimal point is a zero, which in this mnemonic we represent by the end of a sentence. Here's 167 digits' worth:

How I need a drink, alcoholic of course, after the tough lectures involving quantum mechanics; but we did estimate some digits by making very bad, not accurate, but so greatly efficient tools!

In quaintly valuable ways, a dedicated student—I, Volokh, Alexander—can determine beautiful and curious stuff, O!

Smart, gorgeous me!

Descartes himself knew wonderful ways that could ascertain it too!

Revered, glorious—a wicked dude!

Behold an unending number: pi!

Thinkers' ceaseless agonizing produces little, if anything!

For this constant, it stops not—just as e, I suppose.

Vainly, ancient geometers computed it—a task undoable.

Legendre, Adrien Marie: "I say pi rational is not!"

Adrien proved this theorem.

Therefore, all doubters have made errors.

(Everybody that's Greek.)

Today, counting is as bad a problem as years ago, maybe centuries even.

Moreover, I do consider that variable x, y, z, wouldn't much avail.

Is constant like i?

No, buffoon!

Note that the word "greatly" in the first sentence was originally "f**king", but this is (sometimes) a family blog.

This was written up in the March 18, 1996 issue of The Scientist magazine (at the link you'll also find a picture of me from back then) and was also mentioned in Ivars Peterson's Mathland from March 11, 1996. As a stocking stuffer, you might try David Blatner's The Joy of Pi (1997), which quotes me on the subject.

Antreas Hatzipolakis compiled a list of pi mnemonics in the late 1990s, and some other pi links are here. One of the best pi mnemonics, which gets up to 740 digits, is a retelling of Poe's The Raven; here's its first stanza:

Poe, E.
Near A Raven

Midnights so dreary, tired and weary.
Silently pondering volumes extolling all by-now obsolete lore.
During my rather long nap—the weirdest tap!
An ominous vibrating sound disturbing my chamber's antedoor.
"This", I whispered quietly, "I ignore".

This is actually the beginning of a super-long work called Cadaeic Cadenza by Mike Keith, which is itself a mnemonic for pi and seems to have about 4000-5000 words.

Of course, a classic, even if it doesn't cite me, is the very opinionated A History of Pi (1976), by the very opinionated Petr Beckmann. You can also listen to pi music here (NPR story here); a much more ambitious pi-related composition is here.