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March 12, 2010

Geek Out!: My life with pi

Posted: 03:09 PM ET
Pumpkin pi.
Pumpkin pi.

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting nerd culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

Happy (almost) Pi Day, everyone! I'm going to be eating some pie with my friends Sunday to commemorate the day. But Pi Day (see my story here) wasn't always so well-recognized.

When I was 13, I thought I was different because several of my hobbies involved the number pi. For me, the ratio of circumference to diameter of a circle held many exciting possibilities. Since no one had proven that the digits were random, yet there were infinitely many of them, I saw this as an amazing opportunity for creative expression, and perhaps some code-cracking too.

For instance, you can put pi to music: using a piano, make middle C=1, D=2, E=3, and so on, you have a song representing pi. At the first instance of "0" the melody breaks down a bit (I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the “0” anyway), but I think there's a natural musical ending ("53421") - ending back on middle C - with the number 1 at digit 95.

I also did a lot of pi-related creative writing back in my teenage years, including this song "American Pi." Here’s a poetry technique you can try too: the number of letters in each word correspond to a digit, so a “pi poem” begins with a three-letter word, a one-letter word, a four-letter word, and so on. Here’s an example I wrote, representing (3.1415926535897932384626433832795).

Why, π? Stop, π! Weird anomalies do behave badly!
You, madly conjured, imperfect, strange, numerical,
Why do you maintain this facade?
In finite time you are barbaric.
You do wonders, mesmerize minds!

It was also fun to memorize digits from the poster in my math classroom. When that poster ran out around digit 50, I turned to books. To remember the digits of pi, I primarily relied on a rhythm in my head that grouped 2, 3, or 4 digits together at a time. To me it was three point one four one five nine two six and so on, although more ambitious pi memorizers may use other methods.

Today, it appears that pi become much more mainstream than when I first fell in love with it. Back in 1997, I had only my books and a few Web sites to draw from for pi inspiration. Now, there are hundreds of pi-related Web resources, not to mention a great deal of enthusiasm on YouTube – you’ll find pi recitations far longer more than my personal record of 178, and pi songs that are more ambitious than my own. It’s on "The Simpsons," in the movies, and a lot of other places you’d least expect. There’s even a Kate Bush song involving the digits of pi. Judging by how many pi-related t-shirts there are, I’d say it’s become a status symbol in this whole "geek is chic" movement.

Apparently it’s not so weird to like pi anymore. In fact, pi has actually brought me closer to other people. One of my good friends, also a pi fan, learned of my existence in 2002 when I published an opinion piece about pi in the Philadelphia Inquirer. A college classmate spent the morning of March 14, 2005, memorizing more than 200 digits so that he could beat me at Princeton’s annual math department Pi Day celebration (he took first place, I took second, we're still friends). In recent years I’ve worn a pi-related outfit at Dragon Con, which is a great ice-breaker among thousands of self-proclaimed geeks.

Clearly, I will not be the only one eating pie in honor of Pi Day on Sunday. What are you doing for Pi Day? Share your ideas in the comments.

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Filed under: Geek Out! • Mathematics

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Franko   March 12th, 2010 6:34 pm ET

π is over baked, with too much celebration
With π you cannot eat your cake and have it too.
Try dividing your π with e, and calculate a million digits.

PiLing   March 12th, 2010 7:28 pm ET

Pi as a superior being deserving recognition as a supreme being; hence the following from the Book of Pi:

The name of Pi's first pope: Pope Pius
The name of the individual that lead Pi's people from the desert: PIed piper
The name of the indivudal that is the leader of PI's followers in the east: Pilling
The name of PIling's son: Pilling On
The name of PI's holy mountain: Pike's Peak
The name of someone that climbs PI's holy mountain: PIker
The name of PI's annual long-distance run: Python
The name of the individual that lites the candles at PI's holy services: Pyro
What did PI drink: a PInt



CNNEqualsNews   March 12th, 2010 7:41 pm ET

It's a freaking number. Get over it.

David Blatner   March 12th, 2010 8:05 pm ET

This is wonderful, Elizabeth! Thanks for sharing your life with pi!

Steve Simons   March 12th, 2010 8:46 pm ET

Did someone say that PI is a half-baked idea? Bad dawg. Get in yer basket!

Doug Tom   March 12th, 2010 10:55 pm ET

It's heartening to know that some people in our country are still intellectually curious and also have a sense of humor. Great stuff with the "American Pi" song and the posted comment about the Book of Pi. By the way, pie may be usually round but pi r square when you look in the right "area."

Henry Miller, Libertarian, Cary, NC   March 13th, 2010 12:05 am ET

And here I thought I was alone!

I was a geek long before the term was invented–back in 1967 when I was in eighth grade, I punched out pi to 206 digits on a label maker and stuck the lot to the case of my slide rule. (Do any of you even know what a slide rule is?)

Being a geek in "junior high" (as it was called back then) in 1967 didn't make you popular, and there wasn't much geekier than being the only kid in school who even knew what a log-log deci-trig slide rule was, let alone knew how to use it.

Charles Pearson   March 13th, 2010 12:08 am ET

I celebrate Pi day every day. Why? Because it's my birthday (something I share with Albert Einstein).

Charles Pearson   March 13th, 2010 12:09 am ET

Um, I meant I celebrate Pi day EVERY YEAR. Not every day. **Embarrassed**

mouse   March 14th, 2010 12:03 am ET

my name is mouse ( for real ) my wife s name is Cathy
but i call her cat im not sure how to wright the
mathematical equation on the computer but i can
try to ex plane it - the way i under stand pi is that
its divisional unto its self forever ,so hear goes.
- === 1 dived by Pi
to me it means me (M) and ( C) Cathy are one forever
so what do you think!! is that cool for " Pi " day

On Pi Day, one number ‘reeks of mystery’ | Web Mass News   March 14th, 2010 5:42 am ET

[...] Author's note: My life with pi [...]

Celebrate Pi Day |   March 14th, 2010 11:10 am ET

[...] Self-confessed geek Elizabeth Landau reports for CNN on how nerds everywhere plan to celebrate: The sound of meditation for some people is full of deep breaths or gentle humming. For Marc Umile, it’s “3.14159265358979…” [...]

Robert   March 14th, 2010 3:11 pm ET


- Kepler's third law: P² = a³
- Special case: assume P = 2pia.
- Then (2pia)² = a³ = (39.4784)³. a = 39.4784 au = very nearly the orbit of Pluto.
- Pluto's orbital distance from the sun = 39.24; semimajor axis 39.482. So the "planet" Pluto swings out slightly beyond the 2-pi-orbit. (39.482 – 39.4784)/ 39.482×100 = 0.009%.

A planet's motion is like that of a clock. Not on the clock = outside the solar system. The orbit of Pluto defines the outer limit of the solar system. Along the path of the 2-pi-orbit distance is as a measure of time. Yesterday March 13 was Pluto day.


carrie   March 14th, 2010 3:55 pm ET

my birthday too, Charles. Happy Birthday to us!

Venicerose   March 14th, 2010 4:05 pm ET

What little I understood of your comments, I enjoyed. My dad was a math genius, while I stumbled in third-grade long division.

Congratulations to all of you from a Math dunce/Word geek

Mike   March 14th, 2010 4:34 pm ET

Henry Miller,
I had a similar situation, my mom worked for K&E and in 1965 she brought home a 'damaged' stainless steel slide ruler (there was a scratch on the face so it was rejected by QC) anyway she brought it home and when I was in first year high school algebra (bored out of my mind) I taught myself how to use it. My teacher reprimanded me and told me that I could not use it in on tests. I still have my 6 scale folded log-log deci-trig slide ruler. I take it out once in a while and offer it to my junior engineers when they have to solve a problem. I love the expression on their faces, several of them have asked me 'What is that?' and the ever popular, 'You know how to use that thing?' To this I reply, 'Yes and in some cases it is faster than your calculator!'

Erin   March 14th, 2010 5:11 pm ET

Pi Day is my birthday too! Go Pi Babies!!

Floyd   March 14th, 2010 8:56 pm ET

"It's a freaking number. Get over it"
Can't. Pi is a non-repeating decimal that you can't get over.

Gastronome   March 14th, 2010 10:06 pm ET

Why memorize Pi in decimal form when it's much easier to remember as a fraction: 22/7? And because of the fraction, the 22nd of July makes a much more appropriate Pi Day than March 14 because while 3.14 is only a small portion of what Pi is, 22/7 represents all of it with nothing left out.

Jessica   March 14th, 2010 11:36 pm ET


Pi is NOT equal to 22/7. There is no fraction that is equal to Pi. Turn in your geek card at the door!

Abbi   March 15th, 2010 9:59 am ET

You are honestly freaking out about pi?
It's a number.
That's soo amazing.
You are lame.

Mama? Mama Luigi! AHAHAHAHA!!   March 15th, 2010 9:48 pm ET

I'm memorizing pi to 75 places.


Yay! I did it!

Michell   March 18th, 2010 7:50 am ET

At my school we have a Pi-Off and eat pie to celebrate Pi Day. The winner this year recited over 2000 digits of pi! =)

Linda   March 19th, 2010 10:33 am ET

Did you know Pi Day is also Albert Einstein's birthday? When I was a physics teacher we had a major celebration with pizza pi and the students presented pi-sters and pi-ems. (posters and poems). The math club made bead jewelry by assigning each digit a color, and then threading the beads according to the digits in pi.

On Pi Day, one number 'reeks of mystery' | WizzBoom!   March 19th, 2010 12:35 pm ET

[...] Author's note: My life with pi [...]

genedoug   March 19th, 2010 10:29 pm ET

CNNEqualsNews March 12th, 2010 7:41 pm ET

It's a freaking number. Get over it.
Not hardly. But it's getting close.

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On Pi Day, is ‘pi’ under attack? | Today Hot News   March 14th, 2011 9:47 am ET

[...] will be pi(e)-eating, pi-digit memorizing, pi songwriting and poem-writing, and exchanging of pi greeting cards. You can find dozens of online resources like Pi Across [...]

On 3.14, Web wishes you a happy Pi Day | WWLT Technologies   March 14th, 2011 3:04 pm ET

[...] will be pi(e)-eating, pi-digit memorizing, pi songwriting and poem-writing, and exchanging of pi greeting cards. You can find dozens of online resources like Pi Across [...]

An Awesome Search – News Monger » Blog Archive » On 3.14, Web wishes you a happy Pi Day   March 14th, 2011 4:02 pm ET

[...] will be pi(e)-eating, pi-digit memorizing, pi songwriting and poem-writing, and exchanging of pi greeting cards. You can find dozens of online resources like Pi Across [...]

Ildane Angstromr   March 15th, 2011 11:35 am ET

Here's a Pi poem I wrote three years ago when my (then) nine year-old informed me of the Pi Day celebration they had at his school that day.

Pi a la Modal rev 3.14159………

The other day I made a pie
and pondered what lid to use
So I borrowed a square thingy
from that guy hypotenuse.

Then I tried to insert my circle
but it just would not quite fit
so I folded once and once again
and then I measured it.

The first fold gave me the diameter
which was twice as big it was
but the second fold sure did the trick
because I squared the radius

My circle now twice folded
looked a rather large slice of pie
but I could not, would not eat the thing
that's when "Hypo" asked me why

I said “I need a perfect lid
“a circle round just as your face
“but unless I know the area
“then my pie will have no place.”

Because the secret to my pie was
I made it out of mud,
so I smushed it onto Hypo's face
I think he understood!

But he started yelling
and rather had me scared
that's when I figured out
I should've πr²!

"Why'd you do that to me now
“as your resultant computational?"
“It clearly made no sense," he cried.
"I had to," my reply, "because pi is irrational!"

Daniel A. Armstrong 3.14.2008

Hoje é o dia mundial do "Pi" 3.14 | MIND YOUR READING   March 15th, 2011 3:03 pm ET

[...] will be pi(e)-eating, pi-digit memorizing, pi songwriting andpoem-writing, and exchanging of pi greeting cards. You can find dozens of online resources like Pi Across [...]

Ildane Angstromr   March 15th, 2011 4:53 pm ET

@Gastronome – "22/7" is referred to only as "pi approximation," so the 22 of July can only be Pi Approximation Day... Also, it makes more sense to have a Pi celebration on 3.14, as schools are still in session, facilitating math/Pi awareness among students. It's all good.

Jesus   March 2nd, 2012 11:20 am ET

Very informative post. I saw a tehacer blow through how he used to do square roots in class once, but didn't explain how it worked. Very cool stuff. I'm an aspiring math tehacer at the moment at college park, and I think this kind of stuff is much more interesting than what I've been learning in linear algebra this semester .

Pi Day: 25 years in San Francisco – Light Years - Blogs   March 14th, 2013 6:00 am ET

[...] My life with pi [...]

In home Personal training Long Island   December 5th, 2013 3:05 pm ET

I love the part we it says "It was also fun to memorize digits from the poster in my math classroom. When that poster ran out around
digit 50, I turned to books. " What child does that? The answer can only be a gifted one.

Her find loves pi and is a pi fan! I hang out with all the wrong people

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