Yes folks, today is – or if you’re reading this tomorrow, yesterday was – Pi Day, a holiday commemorating this most unusual of mathematical constants. Well, is it the oddest? Maybe the know-it-all geniuses may disagree but I would come back to Pi being the most commonly know of all constants, at least for us lay people and/or dunderheads.

**What is Pi?**

Just what the heck is Pi anyway? *π (sometimes written pi) is a mathematical constant whose value is the ratio of any Euclidean plane circle’s circumference to its diameter; this is the same value as the ratio of a circle’s area to the square of its radius.* (Wikipedia) [stunned silence] Ah, but what exactly does that have to do with the price of tea in China?

*Pi is represented by the Greek letter π, and it is the most important constant in mathematics. You can find out the area of a circle of radius r, using πr2. The perimeter of this circle would have the length 2πr. Without pi there is no theory of motion and no understanding of geometry. Likewise, the volume of a sphere of radius r is 4/3πr3 and that of a cylinder of height h is πr2h. Pi occurs in important fields of applied mathematics such as Fourier analysis. It is used throughout engineering, science and medicine and is studied for its own sake in number theory.* (ABC Science)

Well, didn’t that just clear things up nicely! Oh boy, am I in over my head. However, the fascination with this mathematical constant goes on to the nutty and the funny.

**Piphilology**

This oddball word (read made-up) is the creation and use of mnemonic techniques to remember the digits of Pi. The word derives from Pi (natch!) and philology which is the study of language based on historical sources. A “piem” (Pi and poEM) is a poem which represents the constant. The trick is that the number of letters of the word must correspond to a digit. For example (supposedly the most famous):

If you look back at Pi, you find 3.141592653. How = 3, I = 1, want = 4, etc. Funny, eh? But some have even gone further in pushing the limits of this mathematical slash artistic creativity:

Sir, I have a rhyme excelling,

In mystic power and magic spelling,

Mystical spirits elucidate,

For my own problems cant relate.

That one takes you out to the twentieth digit of Pi. I see though that some have gone nuts. Wikipedia gives an example of a poem to the 75th position written in iambic pentameter and talks about texts going on for thousands of digits. That’s a lot of free time on your hands. Then again, I appreciate the challenge of creatively working within certain constraints.

And speaking about working creatively, I just happened to run across two creative guys who put together an amusing musical number about Pi set to the tune of American Pie, the 1971 song written and sung by Don McLean. Here is “Mathematical Pi” by Ken Ferrier and Antoni Chan.

The following YouTube video by Steve Toner, a teacher, is his version of Mathematical Pi by Ferrier and Chan. (A MP3 of Ferrier and Chan singing their own song can be found below.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BwKZEp2K_0

A long, long time ago

Long before the Super Bowl and things like lemonade

The Hellenic Republic was full of smarts

And a question resting on the Grecian hearts

Was “What is the circumference of a circle?”

But they were set on rational numbers

And it ranks among their biggest blunders

They worked on it for years

And confirmed one of their biggest fears

I can’t be certain if they cried when irrationality was realized

But something deep within them died

the day they discovered pi.

They were thinking

Pi, pi, mathematical pi

3 point 14 15 92

65 35 89 7

932384 62

6433832 7 (not rounded)

Well this kind of pie is different than most

It hasn’t got berries, ain’t spread on toast

And that’s how it’s always been

We keep extending its decimal places

Pushing our computers through their paces

But we’ll never reach the end

So why the fascination with

A number whose end is just a myth

Whence the adulation

For mental masturbation

It might have something to do with the stars

To calculate distances from afar

But that’s just a guess ’bout the way things are

Regarding the precision of pi

I am pondering

CHORUS:

Now I feel that I should mention

Pi is applicable in any dimension

At least as far as I know

If there were no Pi we’d be missing things

Like marbles and mugs and balls of string

And sports such as soccer and curling

The orbs in their celestial paths

Navigate along elliptical graphs

Ellipses have pi in them too

Just one side of them has grew

You can see pi in most everything

It’s in Cornell’s Electron Storage Ring

And also in slinkies and other springs

And that’s why it’s important to know pi

You should memorize

CHORUS:

Once one night I had a dream

That pi was gone and I had to scream

Cause all pi things had disappeared (pause)

Can you imagine a world like that

Circles aren’t round and spheres are flat

It’s the culmination of everything we’ve feared

‘Twas a nightmare of epic proportions

One that gave me brain contortions

Oh wait! I mean contusions

They put me in some institutions

But then I escaped and now I’m free

To sing of the virtue of pi

CHORUS

**Pi itself set to music**

Phil Tulga has some unique offerings to teaching on his web site. In one of them, he has put together a little music using the digits to select notes. Look at “part 2 Sequencing with Pi” and listen to “Phil’s Pi song”. Starting with middle C as 1, he creates some harmony, adds some timing and manages to come up with something quite pleasant to the ear based on 3, 1, 4, 1, and 5. Hmmm, does nature have a lot of surprises? A lot of connections between mathematics and music? It’s uncanny.

**Another oddity about Pi: The Feynman Point**

The decimal representation of Pi goes on forever and the current world record is calculating Pi out to 5 trillion digits. An oddity of these numbers is that starting at the 762nd decimal place, there is a sequence of six 9s. It is called the Feynman point after physicist Richard Feynman *who once stated during a lecture he would like to memorize the digits of π until that point, so he could recite them and quip “nine nine nine nine nine nine and so on”, suggesting, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, that π is rational.* (Wikipedia)

**Final Word**

Some miscellaneous references:

There are all sorts of references to Pi on the Net especially ones making use of the homonym pie. Hats off to Larry Shaw who created Pi Day in 1989 at the San Francisco Exploratorium where he worked as a physicist.

The U.S. House of Representatives made it official on March 12, 2009 recognising March 14 as National Pi Day.

July 22 or 22/7 (day/month) is Pi Approximation Day as the fraction 22⁄7 is a common approximation of Pi.

I can’t wait until 2015 when we can all really go all out as then Pi Day will consist of not three but five digits of Pi (3.1415) as 3/14/15 in the month/day/year format.

Now, I think I’ll go cut me a slice… of pie. Hmmm, now where is the whipped cream?

**References**

Wikipedia: Pi Day

*Pi Day is a holiday commemorating the mathematical constant π (pi). Pi Day is celebrated on March 14 (or 3/14 in month/day date format), since 3, 1 and 4 are the three most significant digits of π in the decimal form.*

Wikipedia: Pi

*π (sometimes written pi) is a mathematical constant whose value is the ratio of any Euclidean plane circle’s circumference to its diameter; this is the same value as the ratio of a circle’s area to the square of its radius. It is approximately equal to 3.14159265 in the usual decimal notation. Many formulae from mathematics, science, and engineering involve π, which makes it one of the most important mathematical constants.*

Wikipedia: Piem, Piphilology

*Piphilology comprises the creation and use of mnemonic techniques to remember a span of digits of the mathematical constant π.*

Mathematical Pi by Ken Ferrier and Antoni Chan

The following link is to a MP3 of our two troubadours giving their rendition of their own opus. Please note that unlike YouTube videos which are set up to stream (they start playing without you having to wait for the whole video to download), this MP3 is not streaming so you have to patiently wait for the whole thing to come down to your computer before it starts to play. You are forewarned. Enjoy.

All Too Flat

*Welcome to All Too Flat. Prepare yourself for some serious time-wastin’ and (hopefully) a fair amount of laughing.*

*Alright, so what is this site all about?*

*I think Yahoo describes ATF the best: “A web site that takes its name from a Monty Python sketch seems like the natural place to find oddities like The Bible According to Cheese and scientist trading cards. At alltooflat.com, quirky humor is the name of the game. The ATF Squad tries to debunk myths such as don’t overfeed your goldfish, although tragically, this turns out to be sound advice. They play some vaguely funny pranks on their friends and offer tips on how to stage your own. They even get pretentious and spout off poetry — don’t miss the haikus about bowling, NAFTA, tech guys, raves, NYC, and Law and Order. And if you have questions or need some advice, just ask the fish.”*

*So then what is all this “Too Flat” nonsense anyway?*

*It’s an obscure Monty Python reference:*

*“He is an halibut. I chose him out of thousands.*

*I didn’t like the others; they were all too flat.”*

Click **HERE** to read more from William Belle

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