How Pi Works


National Pi Day
This model is ready to celebrate Pi Day, as he walks the runway at the Niyazi Erdogan show during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week n Istanbul, Turkey, 2015.
This model is ready to celebrate Pi Day, as he walks the runway at the Niyazi Erdogan show during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week n Istanbul, Turkey, 2015.
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images For IMG

National Pi Day was officially recognized by the United States Congress in 2009, but the (definitely not "square") roots of the holiday can be traced back to 1988 and a man named Larry "The Prince of π" Shaw [source: Exploratorium]

Shaw was a beloved longtime employee at the Exploratorium, a science museum in San Francisco, California, and came up with the idea of "π Day" on a 1988 staff retreat following the death of Exploratorium founder Frank Oppenheimer. It was almost too perfect: The first digits of Pi are 3.14 — March 14!

Even better, March 14 is also Albert Einstein's birthday, making π Day the ultimate geeky double-header.

The first π Day celebration was nothing more than Shaw and his wife handing out slices of fruit pie and tea at 1:59 PM (the three digits following 3.14), but the holiday quickly gained fame in the Bay Area.

Shaw eventually built the "Pi Shrine" at the Exploratorium, a circular classroom with a circular brass plaque at its center. Every Pi Day celebration at the Exploratorium ended with a colorful parade led by Shaw blasting his boombox (with a remix of "Pomp and Circumstance" set to the digits of pi) and circling the Pi Shrine exactly 3.14 times. The parade ended with the singing of "Happy Birthday" to Albert Einstein.

The Prince of π passed away in 2017, but the annual Exploratorium party continues, as do π Day celebrations the world over. Popular ways to celebrate include baking a pie and other circular treats; making a construction paper pi chain, where each 10 digits is a different color; and creating a collage out of circular shapes [source: National Pi Day].

You can also challenge your friends to a pi memorization contest. For a little context, the current world record for memorizing and reciting the most digits of pi was set by Suresh Kumar Sharma of India in 2015 when he recited a staggering 70,030 digits in 17 hours and 14 minutes. Why don't you start with 20?

Last editorial update on Mar 12, 2019 04:56:09 pm.

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Sources

  • Exploratorium. "A Brief History of Pi (π)" (March 8, 2019) https://www.exploratorium.edu/pi/history-of-pi
  • Exploratorium. "A Slice of Pi (π) Day History" (March 8, 2019) https://www.exploratorium.edu/pi/pi-day-history
  • NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "How Many Decimals of Pi Do We Really Need?" March 16, 2016. (March 8, 2019) https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/news/2016/3/16/how-many-decimals-of-pi-do-we-really-need/
  • Pi World Ranking List. "Pi World Ranking List" (March 8, 2019) http://www.pi-world-ranking-list.com/index.php?page=lists&category=pi
  • Roberts, Gareth Ffowc. "Pi Day 2015: Meet the Man Who Invented Pi." The Guardian. March 14, 2015 (March 8, 2019) https://www.theguardian.com/science/alexs-adventures-in-numberland/2015/mar/14/pi-day-2015-william-jones-the-welshman-who-invented-pi