By Sarah Vander Schaaff
March 14 is Pi Day and Albert Einstein’s birthday. For a town like Princeton, it’s a particularly special moment in time with the date, 3.14.15 coinciding with the digits in the irrational, never-ending digits in pi: 3.14159….
And if there was ever a celebration of the inquisitive, intellectual, mathematical and academic, this is it. The official party in this college town (also called Einstein’s alley) is Saturday, but set your alarm clocks, folks.
The party starts at 7am.
It starts with a Walk a Pi Day, (yes, that’s 3.14 miles), then, there’s a Pie Eating Contest, An Einstein look a like contest; A 9.86 bike tour (3.14×3.14), but perhaps the most dramatic event takes place at 1pm in the Prince William Ballroom of the famed Nassau Inn. Yes, folks, it’s there that the irrational compete to prove their mastery of the irrational in the Pi Recitation Contest.
“Academic celebrity attendees include Gareth Conway, age 13 and 2-time Pi Day Princeton Champion and his father, John Conway, Professor of Mathematics and John Von Neumann, Distinguished Professor in Applied and Computational Mathematics at Princeton University.”
The competition used to include adults, but, as the organizers said, it just went on too long. The Pi Day celebration doesn’t stop, though, with the recitation—it goes on well past 5pm with the Nerd Herd Smart Phone Pub Crawl.
If you need a little backstory to Pi, I refer you to the lyrics written to this rendition of the Beverly Hillbillies Theme Song by Carolyn M. Morehouse at The Math Forum, a research and educational enterprise of the Drexel University School of Education.
The Why of Pi
sung to the tune of either “America the Beautiful” or the Beverly Hillbillies Theme song – take your pick!
“Here is a little song about the history of pi Circumference of a circle by diameter divide, Three-point-one-four is just the start, the end has no location It’s a transcendental, infinite, irrational mentation.
Four thousand (roughly)years ago in sandy Egypt land, The measurement of circles was so hard to understand, A mathematician named Ahmes became a famous guy Without the use of decimals he estimated pi.”
This Old Pi
sung to the tune of “Give a Dog a Bone”
It’s irrational and so am I
With a 3.1415926
Pi Day is for lunatics!
You’re so fun
And better than one
If you think that pi are round Beware!
We all know that.
Sing out strong
Fifty billion digits long
And there’s still no evidence of any rule
Transcendentalness is cool.
The history of Pi calculations goes back centuries, of course. It’s worth looking at how the system for computation has changed. In 1846, according to Wikipedia, William Shanks took 15 years to calculate 707 decimal places, with not all being correct. In 1949, D.F. Ferguson and John Wrench found 1,120 decimal places using a desk calculator. The most recent calculation using a “home computer with commercially available parts” took 208 days and found: 13,300,000,000,000 decimal places.
Why celebrate Pi Day? Maybe the question is, why don’t we take more time out of our lives to talk about and give value to the quest for knowledge and the people who devote their lives to progress? Is once a year really enough?
Looking for some Pi accessories? The Math Guru has some that might appeal to even the most fashion-conscious.
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