Pie or Pi?


Eliana pieing Dr. Weiss Wright

Nathan Tang, Editor

March 14th, also known as 3.14, is celebrated as Pi day. The question stands, is it pie or Pi? Although many think they are the same, national pie day is actually on January 23rd. The difference? Pie is a dessert while Pi is an infinite number that never ends. On Thursday, March 16th, ASB celebrated Pi day with a competition to see which student could memorize the most digits of Pi. The competition had originally been schedule for March 14, but was rained out.

Pi as a number is pretty impossible to memorize. Why? It never ends. Pi is an irrational number, meaning that it is infinite and never goes into a repeating pattern. The discovery of Pi was way more difficult than memorizing even the first 100 digits. Around 3,000 – 4,000 years ago, people used trial and error to attempt to correctly identify Pi. The first mathematician to correctly identify the first three digits of Pi, 3.14, was Archimedes in ancient Greece around 250 B.C. His technique consisted of drawing polygons around and within a circle. Measuring the perimeters of these would give the lowest and highest possible number that Pi could be. Only 100 years later, Greek-Roman scientist Ptolemy used the same technique to determine two new digits of Pi. Now, the number was 3.1416. Around 480 A.D. Chinese mathematician Zu Chongzhi was able to successfully calculate seven digits of Pi. This held the record for another 800 years.

New techniques for discovering Pi were developed in the 16th and 17th centuries. These methods would use an infinite sequence to calculate Pi. This would revolutionize the limits at which we could calculate Pi. With this records were shattered as new digits were discovered with in a few years. A whopping total of 620 digits were discovered in 1956 without the aid of a calculator or computer. The use of computers have greatly helped with the newest digits of Pi. The most recent calculation of Pi shows over 13 trillion digits! That’s around 26 times the amount of plastic water bottles ever created!

ASB’s Pi day event ended in a very big surprise. Students were asked to recite as many numbers of Pi as they could. The student that could recite the most digits would receive a Polly’s giftcard and a chance to pie Dr. Weiss-Wright in the face! The 6th grade lunch winner was Brent Bang and the 7th and 8th grade winner was Eliana Anteneh. Eliana was able to recite 35 digits while Brent recited past the card! Both did an outstanding job at reciting Pi correctly.

I was able to ask Eliana if it was hard for her to memorize 35 digits of Pi. She stated, “Not really, I just sang the song often. I already knew it before the Pi competition.”

The history of Pi is very confusing, almost as confusing as memorizing the first 50 digits in order. Many mathematicians throughout history worked together to discover the number that is now one of the hardest challenges.