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Celebrate Pi Day with 31.4 trillion digits

Emma Haruka Iwao writes down pi
Google’s Emma Haruka Iwao dashes across a whiteboard to write down the first digits of pi. She used Google Compute Engine, powered by Google Cloud, to calculate pi to an accuracy of 31.4 trillion digits. (Google via YouTube)

What’s the best way to celebrate Pi Day? That’s the geeky holiday that takes place on 3/14 … in other words, today. For some, it’s a day for baking geeky pies, or getting a $3.14 deal on slices of pizza. For Google, it’s a day for breaking a world record, by calculating the irrational number’s value to 31.4 trillion digits of precision.

31,415,926,535,897 digits, to be exact.

Pi enters into every walk of life, if that walk happens to be circular. On one level, it’s the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. On another level, it’s a mystical number to contemplate, because the digits just go on, and on, and on …

Physicist Larry Shaw invented a ritual to celebrate that mystical value, and that ritual was first celebrated at San Francisco’s Exploratorium for the first time 30 years ago. It involves walking in a circular procession on 3/14 at 1:59 p.m. (in honor of 3.14159), singing happy birthday to Albert Einstein, and reveling in a pie feast (fruit and/or pizza). The ritual is celebrated at the Exploratorium to this day.

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This Pi Day, remember the reason for the season

Pi Day pie
The Pie shop in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood goes all-out for Pi Day. (Pie via Facebook)

Maybe it’s time to put the pi back in Pi Day.

I remember a time when 3/14 really stood for something: namely, the calendar date that came closest to the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.

Yes, I’m talking about pi, or π for the purists out there. 3.14159… Arguably the best-known irrational number in mathematics.

That was the reason why physicist Larry Shaw came up with the traditional Pi Day ceremonies precisely 30 years ago, in 1988. He and his disciples celebrated the first Pi Day at San Francisco’s Exploratorium by consuming slices of pizza and fruit pie, and marching in a circle at 1:59 p.m. (Get it? 3/14 1:59?)

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Pi Day mashes up math and munchies

Pi Day pie
Pi Day is a big pie day as well. (Pie via Twitter / @sweetnsavorypie)

Pi Day plays off the fact that March 14 – 3/14 – is a numerical pun on math’s best-known irrational number: pi, or 3.14. But there’s nothing irrational about punning pi, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, with pastry as well.

The day has come to be known as a celebration of pie as well as pi (and, coincidentally, Albert Einstein’s birthday). In Seattle, pie tends to trump pi.

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