Pi Day: Seven Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Math Nerd’s Day

Michele Gorman

The snowstorm named Stella ruined Pi Day for math teachers across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, as they were stuck at home instead of in their classrooms celebrating 3.14 with their students.

Pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, which mathematicians note using the Greek letter “π.” The irrational number, a mathematical constant, starts with 3.14159...and continues infinitely without repeating.

Related: Winter storm Stella, in photos

Pi is celebrated each year on March 14, or 3/14, because three, one and four are the first three significant digits. The annual celebration is observed in a variety of ways, including eating dessert pies and pizza pies, throwing pies and reciting Pi decimals. Pi Day was especially significant on March 14, 2015 at 9:26:53 a.m. and p.m.—because the date and time represented the first 10 digits of the irrational number.

0314_pi_day_01

Ann Romney, the wife of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, makes a cherry pie inside the Sweetie-licious Bakery Cafe in DeWitt, Michigan, on June 19, 2012. Larry Downing/Reuters

Here are seven other things you can now count on knowing about Pi Day.

1. There Is a Prince of Pi 

Larry Shaw organized the earliest known large-scale celebration of Pi Day, in 1988 at the San Francisco Exploratorium, where he worked as a physicist. The staff and public marched around its circular spaces...and then ate fruit pies. This year, adhering to the 3.14159 date and time representation of Pi, the procession begins Tuesday at 1:59 p.m. local time.

Shaw is now known as the Prince of Pi.

2. Mike Pence and Nine Other Republicans Voted Against National Pi Day

The U.S. House of Representatives officially recognized Pi Day in March 2009. The resolution, brought forth by Representative Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology, aimed to recognize the continuing importance of the National Science Foundation’s math and science education programs, and was meant to encourage schools and educators to observe the day with appropriate activities about Pi. It didn’t create a federal holiday, but rather supported the designation for Pi Day.

“Whereas Pi can be approximated as 3.14, and thus March 14, 2009, is an appropriate day for ‘National Pi Day,’” Gordon said in the introduction of his House resolution at the time. He had 15 co-sponsors.

Legislators passed the resolution 391...to 10. Yes, 10 lawmakers voted against Pi Day. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), now vice president of the United States, joined nine other Republicans in opposing the resolution—Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Jeff Flake (Arizona), Dean Heller (Nevada), Timothy Johnson (Illinois), Jeff Miller (Florida), Randy Neugebauer (Texas), Ron Paul (Texas), Ted Poe (Texas) and Bill Shuster (Pennsylvania).

Chaffetz, who now is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he opposed the day for a specific reason: “I cannot support Pi Day as just one day. It should go on forever.”

3. Indiana Tried Legalizing Pi as 3.2

It’s common for lawmakers to vote against holidays on principle. But in Pence’s case, he likely voted against Pi Day because of something that happened in his state more than 100 years prior to the 2009 vote.

In January 1897, Indiana state legislators passed House Bill No. 246, hoping to make Pi equal a rounded 3.2. (Talk about irrational, huh?) The bill never became law, thanks to the intervention of C.A. Waldo, a mathematics professor at Purdue University who was in the statehouse on the day of the vote. He allegedly gave the legislators a math lesson, and the bill subsequently died.

4. Massachusetts-Based Table Talk Pies Gives Away Free Desserts

Winter storm Stella forced the Pie Store, operated by Table Talk Pies in Worcester, Massachusetts, to close its doors for Pi Day 2017 amid blizzard-like conditions. “We are so sad to miss Pi Day—but will be in on Wednesday!” the store posted Monday on its Facebook page.

Table Talk Pies (tagline: “America’s Favorite Pie!”), which has two facilities in the Bay State, sells more than 2 million snack pies per week. The company, established in 1924, specializes in fresh 4-inch snack pies and sells in major supermarkets and convenience stores, mostly in the Northeast. Nationwide, the stores carry thaw-and-sell desserts pies of varying sizes. 

On typical days at the Pie Store, the company’s only retail store, customers can stop in for 4-inch or 8-inch pies and a cup of coffee. (Too bad it is closed this year, because isn’t this weather perfect for such food?) The company loves Pi Day so much that it gives away free pies to teachers in the area every year on March 14. 

Other companies offer theme-related deals on Pi Day. Boston Market is giving away free chicken pot pies, and Whole Foods is offering $3.14 off any large pie from the bakery or any large take & bake pizza pie.

5. NASA Celebrates With a Space Math Challenge

For the fourth year in a row, NASA has set up a series of four math problems using Pi—featuring Martian craters, distant exoplanets, Saturn orbits and eclipses—to demonstrate the ways Pi is important to researchers in their understanding of space, according to Space.com. The problems are aimed at the the sixth-grade through high-school level.

Math nerds also participate in the online Pi Day Challenge, which even has its own acronym—PDC. On PiDayChallenge.com, they compete in a series of logic-based puzzles.

6. There Is a Pi World Record

Rajveer Meena holds the world record for reciting the most decimal places of Pi—70,000, according to Guinness World Records. He did so while wearing a blindfold—for more than 10 hours—at the VIT University in Vellore, India, in March 2015.

Marc Umilie of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, holds the U.S. and North American record for memorizing digits of Pi to 15,314 places. He set his record in July 2007.

7. It’s Albert Einstein’s Birthday

Happy 138th birthday, Einstein! While the German-born theoretical physicist developed the theory of relativity, not Pi, the scientifically minded especially remember him on Pi Day because he shares his birthday with the holiday.

Since he lived in Princeton, New Jersey, for more than two decades while working as one of the first faculty members at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton residents celebrate Pi Day annually by taking part in pie-eating and recitation contests, as well as an Einstein look-alike competition.

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