Pi Day: Past, Present, and Future. Pi Men: One More Famous Than The Other

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Are you ready for Pi Day? How much do you know about this very famous number? Image by Decoded Past, All Rights Reserved

Are you ready for Pi Day? How much do you know about this very famous number? Image by Decoded Past, All Rights Reserved

Simple Simon met a Pi Man going round and round
Said Simple Simon to the Pi Man “Tell me what you’ve found”

The Pi Man said “I went around but now I’m at a loss
Said Simple Simon to the Pi Man, “Why not cut across?”

The Pi Man did as Simon said, then got a piece of string
And when he measured round and ‘cross, he found an awesome thing

When round was fractioned over ‘cross, a number did arise
That always seemed to be the same, whate’er the circle’s size

That fraction didn’t vary once, whatever orb he’d try
And so the Pi Man now could rest; he’d found a constant — π

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The History of Calculating π

A Pi Man once wanted to see
What the value of π might be
He measured around
Then divided by ‘cross
And proclaimed “Why the answer’s ’bout three!”

The Pi Man’s method of determining the value of π is probably the one the ancients used. They simply cut a fiber the length of the diameter of a circle and measured how many times they had to lay it out to reach around the outside.

At first, many believed the value was three. Then the mathematicians refined it using fractions down to 3.12, 3.16, 3.15, and finally 3.14; but all of these estimates were empirical.

The Analytical Determination of π

The great Archimedes of Syracuse (287-212 BC) was the first mathematician known to have approximated the value of π by circumscribing and inscribing polygons to find limits. He eventually calculated the value for a polygon of 96 sides to come up with a value of pi between 3-1/7 (3.142857) and 3-10/71 (3.140845). Imagine making such a calculation without any calculating device!

π was not known accurately to ten decimal places until the year 1400. Then, 300 years later, mathematicians calculated it to 100 decimal places. The dawn of the computer age brought rapid increases in the accuracy of approximations of π, and by 1973 it was known to a million decimal places. It reached a billion in 1989. Currently π is known to over twelve trillion decimal places.

Memorizing π: 3.141592653 …

Reciting π to many decimal places became a popular pastime in the early 1970s, and Guinness started keeping track of world records in 1973, at which time the record was under 1,000 digits. The current record holder is Chao Lu of China, who took just over 24 hours to recite 67,890 decimal places of π. Don’t ask why.

Who Has a Birthday on Pi Day?

There was a young lady from Bright
Who could travel much faster than light
She took off one day, in a relative way
And returned on the previous night

(Author Unknown)

Albert Einstein is unarguably the most famous individual born on Pi Day as it is generally defined (March 14). Einstein’s equation (E=mc^2), which describes the equivalence of energy and mass, eclipses in fame even C=πD, which relates the circumference of a circle to its diameter. But there are others besides Einstein who deserve recognition, and those born on the one and only REAL Pi Day deserve special attention.

The REAL Pi Day

Using the actual digits of π, the REAL Pi Day would be March 14, 1592. Unfortunately no one of note was born on that day. Decoded Past therefore deems it appropriate to round π to the millionths place, which would make March 14, 1593, the REAL Pi Day.

Pi Man, Pi Man, tell us true, what does you father do?
“He wakes this hour to grind some flour
And bake a bread for you.”

Georges de La Tour (Mar. 14, 1593 – Jan. 30, 1652) is an original Pi Man. Interestingly, his father was also a pie man — a baker. Georges eschewed the family business and became an artist of considerable repute. His paintings hang in many museums, including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Modern History of π Day

Pi Day has only recently blossomed into a day of celebration.  San Francisco in 1988 had the first documented Pi Day revelry, with pie eating contests. In 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution recognizing March 14 as Pi day.

Pi Days in the Future

March 14, 2015, will be a special day for Pi fans. 3/14/15 will represent the first five digits of π. Purists will want to save their celebration for 9:26 and 53 seconds, which will represent the first ten digits of π.

Continental Pi Day

Since Europeans write their dates with the day first and then the month, it would seem that they miss out on the merrymaking, because April only has 30 days and 31/4 would represent April 31. But the Continentals luck out, because π is often expressed as the fraction 22/7 (This value is actually slightly closer to π than the more-often-used 3.14). So July 22 is the date for Europeans to raise a glass to the most famous mathematical ratio of them all.

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© Copyright 2014 Jon Plotkin, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Past


  1. says

    There is a tendency to truncate pi to a certain number of digits. It is more accurate to round pi to the desired number of digits. If you round pi to the nearest second, it would be 9:26:54. A purist would say that we will pass through pi on 3/14/15 between 9:26:53 and 9:26:54.

    If you want to celebrate an entire pi DAY, you need to wait until 2016. 3.1416 would be pi rounded to the 10000th place. It is more accurate than 3.1415, as the next digit is a 9.

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