Today is the day we’ve come full circle (like every other year) to celebrate the brilliance of the mathematical discovery of Pi. The first known large-scale celebration of Pi day was in 1988, coincidentally the same year I was born. Presumably, this explains my exceptional(ly poor) mathematical skills. Thanks to the physicist Larry Shaw, who ingeniously (obviously) chose the celebration date for Pi day to be on March 14th,we now have at least two excuses a year to indulge ourselves with way too much of this circular treat.. Yeah, you read that right; here in the US we have not one, but two yearly celebrations of pie. The second one is January 23rd, in case you’re wondering. But enough about Pie though, today is Pi day after all.
Although not everyone agrees, some people claim the Egyptians were among the first to use a close approximation of pi (22/7) as early as 2500BC. Both Egypt and Babylon have the earliest written estimations of pi within one percent which leads one to wonder why the pyramids were not pie shaped. Evidence found in Babylon and Egypt included a clay tablet and the Rhind Papyrus which both date back to approximately 1900 – 1600 BC.
And then there was Archimedes. His geometric approach really shaped the way mathematicians calculated pi for centuries. Good ol’ Archimedes drew a circle with a hexagon on the inside and outside of the circle. He then created similar drawings with polygons up to 96-sides, using these many sided polygons to estimate the value of pi. The only way Archimedes was getting around these polygon perimeters was with cold, hard calculations. The more sides his polygon had, the closer Archimedes could get to the true value of pi. These polygonal algorithms would be used for over 9,000…excuse me, over 1,000 years. But Archimedes’ shapely math continued to be relevant in our millennium. In 1630, mathematicians were able to use Archimedes’ algorithm to reach 39 digits of pi.
Bonus pun (RYOR – read at your own risk):
Q: You know what a circle is made out of?
A: Plenty of Archs.
The Top 3 Most Outlandish Present Day Pi Day Celebrations
1. A night of Pi-fect joy
In 2013 on pi day, Cal Tech students had their own late night (or early morning) pie eating pi party. These calculating students spared no calculator in computing a night of pi-fection. 130 pies were laid outside the student housing with 26 each of five pies. These math wizards planned on 3/14 at 1:59 a.m. to have the amount of pies they made all to equal the first five digits of Pi, 3.14159265.
2. Religiously Pi
At the San Francisco Exploratorium, math geeks got to march around the Pi shrine 3.14 times. Attendees choose between singing praises to the math god or singing happy birthday to Albert Einstein whose birthday coincidentally falls on Pi day (let the conspiracies begin). This Pi parade of sorts was led by Larry Shaw, the physicist responsible for turning Pi day into a national phenomenon.
3. Multi-tasking with Pi
As if rivaling Archimedes’ computational acrobatics, a woman named Teresa Miller recited the first 450 digits of pi while simultaneously solving a rubix cube and hula hooping in 2010. And I thought rubbing my stomach and patting my head at the same time was hard enough!