Planning for Pi Day

Let’s see: 3.14159265359. Of course the number goes on for a whole lot more digits. It has been calculated out to over a trillions of digits beyond the decimal point. I won’t need that many. Although my sister has definitely memorized more digits of pi than I, remembering the first three digits is probably enough to impress her. 3/14 is celebrated by mathematicians and a few other folks as “Pi Day.” That was the day that my sister was set to arrive for a visit, but a last minute change in schedule means that she won’t be here until the next day. Having remembered that Wednesday was pi day should be enough to impress her, if only a tiny bit.

The 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. It is an irrational and transcendental number, which means it will continue infinitely without repetition or pattern. It is that fact that makes it fun to memorize some of the digits beyond the decimal and a challenge for super computers to computationally calculate more and more digits. People have known a bit about the concept of pi for a very long time. There is even a brief reference in the bible. 1 Kings 7:23 refers to a circular pool as being 30 cubits around and 10 cubits across. All circles are just a little more than 3 times their width around. The mathematician Archimedes used polygons with many sides to apprise mate circles and determined that Pi is approximately 22/7. The use of the geek letter was first used tin 1706. Since the word perimeter begins with p, the corresponding Greek letter was chosen. It became popular after being adopted by the Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler in 1737.

The number is useful in computing several geometry problems involving circles. The area of a circle is calculated by the formula: area equals Pi r squared. If you are a mathematician with a sense of humor, you’ll get from that formula the joke, “Pies aren’t square, they’re round.” OK so it isn’t that funny, but it does amuse a few mathematically inclined friends of mine.

At the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, where there is a collection of quite a few mathematically inclined students and professors, they’ll be celebrating the day by serving pie to each other. I don’t know if they go to the trouble of baking their own pies, but if so, they’ll need to get a good crust for the dish. I’m certainly no expert, but it does seem to help to make sure you use butter straight out of the refrigerator. Cut it into tiny cubes before cutting it into the flour. And make sure the water you use is ice cold. I’m sure for Tech students, purchasing a pie crust from the freezer section in the grocery store will work fine.

Of course there are other types of crusts that can be made. If you search for Gluten-free pie, you may find a recipe that uses pitted dates soaked in water and unsweetened shredded coconut. This mixture is blended in a food processor or blender and the resulting dough-like mixture can be pressed into a pie plate and used for the crust in a refrigerator pie. I don’t think it would work to bake the stuff, however.

Some of the antics at the School of Mines involve pie plates filled with whipped cream - hardly pies in the technical sense - but useful for making a mess and getting the comic sense that comes from having watched too many slapstick movies where someone get a pie in the face.

If you want to eat it, use a graham cracker crust and mix cream cheese with the whipped cream. Crunch up a few cookies to mix in with the filling and top with sprinkles. Stick the pie in the refrigerator before serving and it isn’t too bad.

Of course I don’t know why I’m coming up with easy pie recipes for the students. Pi isn’t supposed to be easy. It is a kind of nerdy piece of information that gives those in the know a sense of having a bit of inside information. If they revel in the challenge of difficult mathematics, others ought to revel in the difficulty of complex recipes.

Pies, if you don’t count pizza, are not a real staple in our family’s diet. I like a piece of pie on a special occasion, but it isn’t something that we make very often. Several years ago I got on a kick of trying to teach myself how to make a really good cheesecake, a kind of variation on pie, but abandoned that process after several very good desserts.

I read that there is a pizza shop in Wichita that celebrates Pi day by selling a complete full-sized pizza for $3.14159265359 each. (They’re willing to round down to $3.14.) The promotion is wildly successful, probably due to the very low price. I also have heard of a coffee shop that sells its specialty beverages for that price on Pi day. That should still produce a very healthy profit for the coffee shop. Their ingredients aren’t that expensive and their overhead should be will covered by charging over $3 per cup even if the going price is around $5 these days.

I’m just pleased with myself for having caught an article in an online newspaper and remembering that Pi day is coming up. It will be a good thing to mention to some of my mathematician friends and I’ll get a few brownie points for mentioning it to my sister when she arrives for her visit.

So mark your calendars and get ready to celebrate Pi day is coming this week. I guess if you want to really impress a mathematician friend, you could memorize the formula for calculating the volume of a cylinder. All you have to do is to calculate the area of the circle and multiply that times the height.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!