Monday, March 15, 2010

Pi Day: History, Jokes, and Celebration

The good thing of following Google Top Trends is ability to learn something new “off the beaten path”. The multiple searches, related to “Pi”, today mark the special holiday – Pi Day.

Google celebrated the holiday with the main search page design:

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Now, I do not really have to explain to you the reason behind today being Pi Day, do I? In case the obvious is lost on you, check the date. Today is March 14, 2010. In figures, that 3/14/2010. Now you’re catching on…

Official Acknowledgement

Last year, House of Representatives officially honored pi, the Greek letter symbolizing that great constant in mathematics representing the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, for the first time.

An irrational number that has been calculated to more than 1 trillion digits, pi is a concept not totally foreign to today’s Washington. But in this case, the goal was to promote efforts by the National Science Foundation to improve math education in the United States, especially in the critical fourth to eighth grades.
Rounded off, pi equates to 3.14, hence the designation of March 14 as Pi Day under the resolution. Informal celebrations have been held around the country for at least 20 years, but in 2009, 391-10 vote is the first time Congress has joined the party.

The fact that March 14 is also the birthday of Albert Einstein — adding to the convergence of big ideas.

A Brief History of π

Pi has been known for almost 4000 years—but even if we calculated the number of seconds in those 4000 years and calculated pi to that number of places, we would still only be approximating its actual value. Here’s a brief history of finding pi:

The ancient Babylonians calculated the area of a circle by taking 3 times the square of its radius, which gave a value of pi = 3. One Babylonian tablet (ca. 1900–1680 BC) indicates a value of 3.125 for pi, which is a closer approximation.

Rhind Papyrus (ca.1650 BC), there is evidence that the Egyptians calculated the area of a circle by a formula that gave the approximate value of 3.1605 for pi.

The ancient cultures mentioned above found their approximations by measurement. The first calculation of pi was done by Archimedes of Syracuse (287–212 BC), one of the greatest mathematicians of the ancient world. Archimedes approximated the area of a circle by using the Pythagorean Theorem to find the areas of two regular polygons: the polygon inscribed within the circle and the polygon within which the circle was circumscribed. Since the actual area of the circle lies between the areas of the inscribed and circumscribed polygons, the areas of the polygons gave upper and lower bounds for the area of the circle. Archimedes knew that he had not found the value of pi but only an approximation within those limits. In this way, Archimedes showed that pi is between 3 1/7 and 3 10/71.

A similar approach was used by Zu Chongzhi (429–501), a brilliant Chinese mathematician and astronomer. Zu Chongzhi would not have been familiar with Archimedes’ method—but because his book has been lost, little is known of his work. He calculated the value of the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter to be 355/113. To compute this accuracy for pi, he must have started with an inscribed regular 24,576-gon and performed lengthy calculations involving hundreds of square roots carried out to 9 decimal places.

Mathematicians began using the Greek letter π in the 1700s. Introduced by William Jones in 1706, use of the symbol was popularized by Euler, who adopted it in 1737.

An 18th century French mathematician named Georges Buffon devised a way to calculate pi based on probability.


You would be surprised how many people actually celebrate the day, sending e-cards, solving puzzles, listening related tunes, and sharing jokes. It is not too late to join the party now.

Popular Pi Jokes
Q: What do you get when you cut a jack o'lantern by its diameter?
A: Pumpkin Pi!

Q: What do you get when you take green cheese and divide its circumference by its diameter?
A: Moon Pi.

Q:What do you get when you take the sun and divide its circumference by its diameter?
A: Pi in the sky.

Mathematician: "Pi r squared"
Baker:" No! Pies are round, cakes are square!

Question: What do we get when we take the object and order the rim by the diameter?
Answer: Pi in the sky by and by.

A shoe seller meets a mathematician and complains that he does not know what  size shoes to buy. "No problem," says the mathematician, "there is a simple equation for that," and he shows him the Gaussian normal distribution. The shoe seller stares some time at het equation and asks, "What is that symbol?" "That is the Greek letter pi." "What is pi?" "That is the ratio between the circumference and the diameter of a circle." Upon this the shoe seller cries out: "What does a circle have to do with shoes?!"

Pi Music

Do not think that the Pi Day celebration is not a serious event. Martin Gaskell composed an entire musical suite, devoted to Pi: Pi Acres Suite (Op. 3.14159).

Review the entire suite (you can listen this nice serious music by clicking on the selected link below):

How to Celebrate

Yes, this year, the holiday is over. But read some recommendations on how to celebrate the Pi day, and you will be fully prepared for next year event.

1.       Convert things into pi. This step is absolutely necessary for two reasons: To utterly confuse people who have no idea what you are talking about (thus opening the door for enlightenment) and to have fun seeing how many things can be referenced with pi. Consider two approaches:
  • Convert naturally circular things into radians like the hours on the clock. Instead of it being 3 o'clock, now it's 1/2*pi o'clock. Or, instead of it being 3 o'clock, convert the inclination of the sun into radians and describe that as the time.
  • Simply use 3.14 as a unit of measure. Instead of being 31 years old, you are 9pi years old (approaching your 10th birthday). With this same approach, you can find out your next pi birthday (don't forget to celebrate it when it comes!).
2.       Play pi games and make strange mathematical endeavors. These are in the same step because many math nerds consider them the same thing. There are plenty of traditional games that are appropriate on Pi Day, like a pinata, a pie-eating contest or pie-in-the-face fundraiser, etc. Play Pi Day versions of "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" or "Jeopardy;" conduct a Pi Day Scavenger Hunt. Of course, being nerds, there are more intriguing things to do like writing a pi-ku or pi-em, holding a pi memorization or recitation contest, discussing different ways to derive pi, seeing who can write pi in the most noticeable (though legal) place on campus, at work, etc., calculate the average error experienced when using 3.14 as an approximation, finding your name, birthday, ATM pin, etc. in pi, finding pi in pi, or discussing what things would be like without pi (the earth being a square and so on). This list could literally go on and on; hopefully this is enough to give you ideas of your own.

 Eat 'pi' foods. Many creative ways exist to do this. First, there's the punny approach, like eating pineapple, pizza, or pine nuts and drinking pina coladas or pineapple juice. Second, there's the shape approach, like making cookies or pancakes shaped like pi or making a pie with a pi cut out of the center of the crust. Of course, whatever you do, Pi Day is simply incomplete without eating pie, even if you don't feel artistic enough to carve the pi symbol out of the top.

      Do a pi mile run. Go on a run for pi miles. You can take this a step further by organizing a pi mile run.

      Get married on Pi Day. There's nothing more romantic than being married to the one you love at 1:59:26 PM on March 14th to show that, like Pi, your love will continue forever… Or, maybe, get divorced. If your marriage has been a miserable failure, this day may a day of your liberation…
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    Anonymous said...

    If you get married on Pi Day, the music to process out to is the "Pi Acres March"! See:

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