Pi are round


‘And other hilarious tales of math and memory’

Me, I’ve never been such a great shakes at memorizing stuff. I mean, I can rattle off a bit of verse. (My go-to poem: ‘Listen my children and you shall hear…of the midnight ride of Paul Revere’. Impressed?) And I am of the generation that was pressed to learn (by heart) the preamble to the Constitution (a practice I highly recommend to any and all presidential candidates). But. Memorizing pi? I’m not so sure I even knew what ‘pi’ meant when I was a kid.

Pi comes to mind because yesterday was March 14. Which is, in some circles, known as Pi Day. That’s because ‘pi’, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter (yes, I had to look that up), is commonly given as 3.14. And March 14 is commonly given as 3.14. Get it?

Anyway. Pi Day is sort of a Big Deal. And not just among the Pocket-Protector Set. Pi Day got amazing coverage, not only in The New Yorker, but on Facebook. Yesterday, in fact, it seemed that posts about Pi Day outnumbered those about Donald or Bernie or Hillary. (Um, well maybe I’m just mathematically wishfully thinking here.)

A sample of side-splitting Facebook Pi Humor from yesterday, Pi Day, 3.14

Sample of side-splitting Facebook Pi Humor from yesterday, Pi Day, 3.14

The other thing about ‘pi’, the thing that gets everyone all atingle — well, maybe not everyone — is that pi is infinite. Again, according to my handy online source, mathisfun.com (hmmm, if you have to say something is fun, then is it?), pi is equal to 3.14159265358979323846. And that’s just for starters. See, the digits go on forever, and without repeating. This is like catnip to Math Nerds. Every year on 3.14, they get all excited and try to outdo each other reciting pi to as many places as they can. Seriously. Contests are held. Records are broken. Egos are threatened!

Well. I bring this up because The Child was (and is) one of those Math Nerds. A very cute Math Nerd, but still. Also, she can memorize like crazy. Even as a Wee Thing, she would astound my Father’s Coffee Buddies (who gathered daily at the Carlyle MacDonald’s) with her prowess at matching State Capitals with their respective States. (‘Yes, Montpelier is the Capital of Vermont’. ‘No, Bismarck is not the capital of South Dakota. It’s Pierre.‘) I mean, this was when The Child was, like, four.

The Child, at about the time she was winning bets on State Capitals with my Dad's Coffee Buddies

The Child, at about the time she was taking Dad’s Buddies to the cleaners by winning bets on State Capitals

All right, so I’m bragging. I’m a Mom, so sue me. And I’ll warn you: It’s going to get worse. If you want, you can skip the rest of this post and read the one from last week instead, which has no bragging in it whatsoever. (It’s about radio commercials and sushi.)

See, The Child used to enter those Pi Day contests. Not only that, she used to win them. Routinely. Stuyvesant High School got so tired of her winning (her record was pi to 430 places, I kid you not) that in her senior year they didn’t even hold the contest. They just had her go around to the math classes and do her Pi Thing.

The Child (with Proud Pursy-Lipped Me) at her HS Awards Night (note Award-for-Something-or-Other bedecking her neck)

The Child (with Proud Me) at her HS Awards Night (note Award-for-Something-or-Other bedecking her neck)

Now, before you snort your coffee or choke on your sandwich (depending on when you’re reading this), you should know that, in the annals of pi recitation, that’s no biggie. The record, which I just looked up, is pi to 70,000 digits. Set by some guy named Rajveer Meena. But, hey, I don’t know Rajveer. I don’t even know Rajveer’s Mom, so I’ll continue to be impressed by 430.

They held these Pi Contests at The Child’s college, too. (They even served pizza. A kind of pi(e). Hilarious, those Math Kids.) But by then she’d gotten lazy. Or wised up, depending on how you look at it. Now she only memorized enough places of pi to actually beat her competition. So, in this video, her title was defended successfully by rattling off ‘only’ 224-some pi places, beating some Poor Soul Named Brennan by a couple of digits:

Pretty scary, huh? Well, I promised ‘hilarity’, so let me finish this post by ‘splaining the title. See, my dad (he of the Coffee Buddy betting ring) used to tell this Pi Joke. It seems that this Hillbilly Boy (sorry; I don’t know the PC term for ‘hillbilly’) was in math class, geometry specifically. The lesson that day was on how to determine the area of a circle. Here’s the formula, the way it looked when the teacher wrote it on the board:

The formula for the area of a circle, just in case you're mathematically inclined

The formula for the area of a circle, in case you’re mathematically inclined

But when the teacher said the formula out loud: ‘pi r squared’, the Boy said, ‘No, teacher. Pie are round. Cornbread are square.’

I know, I know. But that joke cracked my dad up every time.

New York City. March 2016



16 thoughts on “Pi are round

  1. drallisonbrown

    “catnip for math nerds,” LOL!! Best thing I heard (read) all day! I can’t even believe that she can remember that string of numbers – absolutely incredible. I mean, with numbers, it’s basically meaningless – it’s not like memorizing a poem, where you can sort of follow along or pick up where you left off….when she paused, I could hear her saying, in her head, “hmmm what comes after the 35th 4 again?”

    • First (because it’s about me — hah!) thank you for appreciating that catnip turn of phrase! Next (because it’s about one of the Two People I Treasure Most) thank you for appreciating The Child’s prowess. She told me once that she makes pictures in her head that represent each numerical sequence. (a horsie for, say, 14159?) But still (!!!)

  2. Unbound Roots

    I love this, and would have loved to hear your daughter reciting the states and their capitals when she was four. I am also impressed that she can memorize pi up to 430 places – WOW! I, like you, have never been one to memorize things. My husband (who is a computer engineer) is the one in our house to memorize easily. Well, I do have an uncanny ability to memorize phone numbers – I know, WEIRD! I can hear them once and they are burned in my mind for years and years. I have no idea why. For instance, I can tell you the plumber’s cell phone number that worked on our house 12 years ago, and has never again worked for us. Wonderful post, Alice!

    • Thank you so much! I love that you remember your plumber’s phone number. Me, I can remember my student number from the U of Mo from, um, more years ago than you’ve been alive! (159133) Other than that, I’m hopeless. And thank you for enjoying the post! xoxoxo

  3. Oh my my! Your girl is amazing. I have never heard anyone reciting that and shhh, I am an engineer. Ok I was before I took up HR 😉
    But yes, please tell her my side (coming from an Indian reader of yours) that she is the only one I know on the planet to recite that.

    Your post, funny! You are so cool. That’s were the genes come from <3

    • Oh my, what a wonderful comment! And from an engineer, too! The Child was the first software engineer to work for Kensho, her marvelous employer. Nice to know that someone besides me (and her Dad) think she is amazing (!) I will pass along your nice words. And thank you personally for the nice things you said about me. xoxoxo

  4. Losing the Plot

    So Stephen Hawking dies on a Maths day, wow.

    … 😝 and yeah, very good, I saw what you did with the title 😂😂😂

    • Thanks for appreciating my Dad’s groaner of a joke! And yes, I just read Hawking’s obit. The Pi Day Exit is so apt. Turns out he liked to say that he was born exactly 300 years to the day after Gallileo died.

    • No pi-related worries, Judy! You and I are cut from the same artistic-but-not-math-formulaic cloth. But you are right — you can’t always tell a Pi Person. Nerds are everywhere! Thanks, as always, for your continued readership. xo

  5. Another trip down Memory Lane!! It helps me forget that the street by my fine apartment is a sea of disgusting mud,complete with large craters. Let’s all hear it for street improvements…….Sigh.

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