As every schoolkid should know, the fattest knight at King Arthur’s Round Table was Sir Cumference. He got that way from too much pi.
Or maybe not.
Readers of longer standing may recall that I used to post occasional Dates To Note and originally ran a version of this post in that series two years ago. I rather like this one, as it gives us Brits a chance to marvel at how weird the USA can be so, for newer readers, here’s a reworked version.
In the UK last week was British Pie Week, whilst in the USA 14 March is National Pi Day. Being a good British citizen of proportions that make me the answer to the football fans’ chanted question ‘Who ate all the pies?’ I was naturally drawn to this. However on further investigation I found that it was in fact a ‘celebration’ by Jus-Rol who make…yes, you guessed it…pastry. I felt rather let down by that, as we have such a tradition of pie-making in this country that it deserves better than blatant commercialism. Oh well!
It was actually the fact that the Americans thought that Pi was worthy of a whole day to itself that caught my attention. My mind was suddenly full of images of those guys who used to present the Open University maths progammes in the 80s – wild hair, wild eyes, outrageous shirts and strange knitwear – gathering together (in circles, of course) chanting strange incantations to the mythical aspects of a mathematical constant, whatever they may be. In case you’re like me and school was a long time ago – or you didn’t listen – the definition of Pi given on the website is:
“Pi Day is celebrated on March 14th (3/14) around the world. Pi (Greek letter “π”) is the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is approximately 3.14159.”
I’m not sure about the claims of worldwide celebration, to be honest. For a start, I don’t know how many countries use the short form calendar backwards to make the 3/14 link possible. Sorry, American readers, but it’s just illogical to put it that way round: days become months, months become years, so it makes more sense to me that today is 14/3/17. Having got that mini rant off my chest, I guess there must be geeks all over the world who would welcome the opportunity to celebrate a concept. But how do you do it? And why? And how did it all begin?
As usual, I turned to the fount of all knowledge, i.e. Wikipedia. You can read the whole article here, but in summary the day was first marked by a physicist called Larry Shaw in San Francisco, in 1988. Heeeeere’s Larry:
What did I say about 1980s mathematicians! There are apparently some educational aspects that make this a day worth giving some attention, such as the competitions in schools to see who can recall Pi to the most decimal places. I’m sure that will be helpful in your future career, kids! But even the instigator of the concept made the link to PIE rather than PI, as you can see from his photo. Yes, they eat pies to mark the day. Apparently they also throw them, but that just seems sacrilegious! I was also intrigued to discover that as 14/3 is also Einstein’s birthday, Princeton, where he lived for 20 years, hold an Einstein look-alike contest on the day. Give up, guys, I’ve got it covered from my one and only attempt at taking part in Movember:
Clearly, Pi Day is a big thing in the States, as even Google has in the past got in on the act:
That’s about as confusing to me as the idea of celebrating a concept, if I’m honest. But if you have a moment do take a look at the Pi Day website. You’ll learn more about Pi than you can ever have imagined (or wanted). I love the tab given over to ‘Pi Sightings’ and especially the Pi Pie Pan, which you can see at the head of this post. Maths becomes fun at last! Well, almost. And if you want to know the history of Pi, it is encapsulated in this little ditty:
Whoever thought mathematicians could be so amusing, eh? I think I’ll stick with Don McLean’s original, thanks. But definitely not the Madonna abomination:
Happy Pi-ing, USA! We think you’re strange 😂