If most people were to be asked if they like pie, most would likely answer “yes,” but perhaps not as enthusiastically as people like Akira Haraguchi or Mike Keith. For those two men, March 14 is pie day… no, it’s Pi day.
Pi, or 3.14159, is a mathematical constant. Take a circle’s circumference (the distance around the outside), divide by the diameter (the distance across), and depending on how accurate your measurements, you will get Pi.
What interests many people about Pi is that it has no ending. The decimal places just keep going and going and going… over a trillion places have been calculated so far… and there doesn’t seem to be any pattern to it.
Other people enjoy Pi because of the mental challenges associated with a popular pastime for many Pi enthusiasts – memorizing as many digits as possible. For some, that’s a few dozen, maybe one hundred or so. Others, like Haraguchi, a mental health counselor from Japan, take the effort to unseen heights.
Last fall, over the course of nearly sixteen hours, Haraguchi recited Pi to 100,000 decimal places. He would hold the Guinness World Record (currently held by Chao Lu from China, who recited the first 67,890 digits in 2005), except Haraguchi doesn’t care, and hasn’t bothered filling out the documentation required by Guinness.
“What I am aiming at is not just memorizing figures,” Haraguchi says. “I am thrilled by seeking a story in Pi.”
Some Pi enthusiasts see more than mental gymnastics in Pi – they see art, and beauty, and poetry. Some, like Mike Keith, a software engineer from Virginia, literally make poetry from Pi. Keith has written what he calls a “piem,” or a poem to Pi. It is nearly 4,000 words long, and although poetic, is as much a mental feat as Huraguchi’s recitation.
Each word of Keith’s “piem” corresponds exactly to each digit in Pi. The first word of the poem has three letters… the first digit in Pi is 3. The second word in the “piem” has one letter… the second digit in Pi is 1. And so forth and so on.
“One: A Poem: A Raven,” begins the poem. “Midnights so dreary, tired and weary, silently pondering volumes extolling all by now obsolete lore. During my rather long nap – the weirdest tap! An ominous vibrating sound disturbing my chamber’s antedoor.”
If you’re checking at home, that makes the first few digits of Pi:
Because of fanatical Pi “worship” like this, March 14 (3.14, in case you’re wondering), has become “the” day for Pi fans to celebrate. The Exploratorium, in San Francisco, is one such party hot spot. There will be pies to eat (real ones!), people decked out in beads (color coded by digit, of course), Pi jewelry, and more. And it isn’t just for math geeks. Givenchy has a Pi perfume, Kate Bush sings out the digits of Pi in one of her songs, and – as to be expected in this technologically forward society – YouTube has its fair share of Pi recitations caught on video.
But don’t think the Pi fanatics are infallible. Just ask Marc Umile, who works as a biller for Medicare. Believed to be the U.S. record holder for Pi recitation, with more than 12,000 digits to his credit and a booking on a TV show to promote the idea of Pi, Umile has one shortcoming. He just can’t seem to remember the phone number to his mortgage company – a number he calls at least once a month. And he also has trouble with his bank account number.
“It starts with 6-1-4,” says Umile. “And I wrote 3-1-4.”