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March 13, 2009

Pi Day, and 'American Pi'

Posted: 12:09 PM ET

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/03/13/art.pi.cnn.jpg

caption="Pi is the ratio of circumference to diameter of a circle. Celebrate it on Saturday, March 14!"]
In honor of Pi Day, March 14 (because it's 3/14, like 3.14), I came up with the basis for this song, inspired by Don McClean’s 1971 song “American Pie,” when I was in high school. Feel free sing along with that tune.

American Pi
by Elizabeth Landau

A long, long time ago, it was one December when I thought I'd found the end of pi.
And if I'd had some batteries, my efforts would have surely pleased
That math fair judge, and that's no lie.
But tests and papers made me shiver with every paper they'd deliver.
More bad news in chemistry,
Just needed that time to study.
I can't remember if I cried when I realized that I hadn't tried
Before something clicked off deep inside
And then, my calculator died.

CHORUS:
So why, why can't I calculate pi
I just want to see the numbers 3.1415
And if that's all, then let's keep it alive
'Cause my calculator seems to have died.
My calculator seems to have died.

Did you write the law of sines, or draw two perfect parallel lines
Without a ruler helping you?
Can you still use a protractor, or find just one imaginary factor
Of a polynomial of order 2?
Well I had a TI-83 when a great misfortune came to me
The screen began to blur - I couldn't even find my curve!
I was a lonely teenage computer freak,
My pencils were chewed but my glasses were sleek,
And the future was looking pretty bleak
The day my calculator died.

[CHORUS]

Books, eraser, graphing paper, I was just a young number chaser
Searching for the holy grail.
Like Archimedes, Ramanujan, and Gregory, Leibniz, van Ceulen,
I could approximate, but then I’d fail!
My calculator was in a daze,
It just wouldn’t run on new AAAs.
The math fair was in an hour
And I was still out of power.
I knew that I was running out of time
A new formula would have been sublime
But all that I could do was rhyme
The day my calculator died.

[CHORUS]

“We know it’s not the pi you eat, this pie’s a far more delicate treat
And it can be so much fun.
Well, Pi is a movie, Pi’s a perfume,
The digits of pi could fill a room,
But could ever find the very last one?”
And although this poem was nice and sweet
In my heart I knew it couldn’t compete.
The other kids had proof.
I felt like such a goof!
And, as I sat down I felt disgraced,
Like I had just gotten a pie in the face.
I knew that I had really lost the race
The day my calculator died.

[CHORUS]

I met a guy in Period 3 who seemed like he could help me
At least he didn’t turn away.
My calculator looked so sad, but I know this kid of course was glad
To make me feel worse on Pi Day.
He said, “I can’t believe you were so dumb.
All you need is a new lithium.”
I asked, “What do you mean?”
He wouldn’t even come clean
And tell me there’s another set of batteries besides the quartet.
So until I get some, and it resets
I think I’ll eat some pie.

So why, why can't I calculate pi
I just want to see the numbers 3.1415
And if that's all, then let's keep it alive
But my calculator didn’t really die!

–p.s. Tell us how you're celebrating Pi Day this year. It's also the birthday of Albert Einstein! And, check out the Science Channel's salute to pi for more information about one of the most important mathematical constants.

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