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Pi Day: Why are we transfixed by the delicious mystery of pi?

March 14, 2012|By Rene Lynch

Pi is more than just a number. So it's only appropriate that Pi Day -- today, March 14 -- celebrates more than just 3.14: Pi is like a beguiling lover who can never be truly known. It's a mathematical constant. And yet, it's irrational. Pi transcends reason as it skips off into infinity.

The dry explanation for pi is this: a mathematical calculation symbolizing the relationship between a circle's diameter and its circumference. For mere mortals, that ratio can be represented simply as 3.14.

But a true calculation goes on for much longer than that. 

And therein lies the mystery of pi.

For centuries, mathematicians have tried to crack pi's code. Supercomputers have calculated pi to more than a trillion decimal places, searching for a pattern.

"No number has captured the attention and imagination of people throughout the ages," says David Blatner, author of the book "The Joy of Pi." The mere representation of the Greek symbol of pi -- seen above -- sends pi enthusiasts into a tizzy.

If you really want to know the lengths to which pi devotees will go, consider Chao Lu of China.

He holds a perch in the Guinness Book of World Records for reciting pi from memory -- from memory! -- to the 67,890 place. He practiced for four years. It would ultimately take him more than 24 hour to recite it.

The rest of us can remember pi to simply the seventh decimal place with this handy pi mnemonic: "How I wish I could calculate pi." (Each word's number of letters represents a number of pi. In this case, 3.141592.)

So what does one do to celebrate Pi Day?

For starters, tool around this website dedicated to Pi Day. You might don a pi T-shirt or button. Or you might show off a pi iPhone case. We also suggest hoisting a pi coffee cup and enjoying a slice of pie. Pizza or apple, it's up to you.

But a true pi lover would make room for both.


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