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Oh, For the Love of π

Pi Day is important to math geeks like me and Hurricane Mayor Scott Edwards. That is why we celebrate Pi Day on March 14th (aka 3.14) each year. March 14 is also Albert Einstein’s birthday. This makes our celebration relevant as in relativity — at least theoretically.

Most are introduced Greek letter “π” (pronounced Pi) in middle school math classes or before. Pi is the symbol used to represent an important and very useful constant: the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. π is approximately 3.14159.

When introducing students to area of a circle at Hurricane Middle School in the mid 1970’s, I tortured them with a joke to which only a few could relate. After explaining that the area of a circle is equal to the square of its radius multiplied by 3.14 (A = πr ), I would tell them of little Johnny. I will now repeat my little Johnny story for the benefit (and pain) of those who have never heard it.

Little Johnny was a member of an extended household which included his grandmother who, while uneducated, realized the importance of a formal education. Granny always asked Johnny the same question each day when he got home, ‘What did you learn today?’ On this day Johnny had learned about the area of a circle. In response to Granny, he puffed out his chest and exclaimed, “Pi r squared.”

Shocked, Granny replied, “They haint learnt you nothin’. Everyone knows, pie are round. Cornbread are square!”

Although Pi is usually rounded to 3.14, for most calculations, it goes on forever. The most accurate value for Pi, according to Guinness World Records, is more than 62 trillion digits long (62,831,853,071,796 to be precise).

For those who don’t enjoy π, there is pie — cherry pie, apple pie, pizza pie, you name it, there are all kinds of pies.

Whether it is calculated or eaten, Pi (and pie) bring joy. Here’s how the joy started. Around for 4,000 years, the ancient Babylonians calculated the area of a circle by taking three times the square of its radius. Careful measurements revealed that three was too small and numbers slightly greater than three were used to determine the area and circumference of circles. The Greek mathematician Archimedes used an algorithmic approach to determine the special number. In 1706, mathematician William Jones, used π, the first letter of the Greek word, perimetros, to represent Pi.

Pi Day did not start until 1988 when physicist Larry Shaw connected March 14 with 3.14 and celebrated the first Pi Day with fruit pies and tea. In 2009, the House of Representatives passed a resolution marking March 14 as National Pi Day.

March 14 is also significant in the world of science because Albert Einstein was born on this day in 1879. March 14 also marks the death of renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who passed away in 2018.

Pi Day celebrations have expanded with many pizza chains and other businesses offering $3.14 deals.

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