March is best known as the month we celebrate St. Patrick's Day,
a day when we all pretend to be Irish by drinking to excess (I
apologize to any of our Irish readers, unless you're too drunk
to read this apology, in which case you're free to Erin-Go-Blow
me). However, there is an even more relevant holiday in the
month of March that is so often forgotten, possibly because of
the drinking. I'm talking, of course, about Pi Day.
Yes, I can't believe it's been a year already. Today is Pi Day,
my friends. March 14th is the day that we celebrate pi in all
its form and splendor. Also, today is Einstein's birthday, but
he loved pi just as much as the rest of us, so I'm sure he won't
mind me making today mostly about pi. I know all of you are busy
trying to think of how you can fit all of your Pi Day activities
into 24 hours, so I'll try to make this quick:
For all of the uninitiated, pi is an irrational number with many
uses, but is mostly just used to figure out the circumference
(that's the distance around) of a circle, or the diameter/radius
if you like to do things backwards. It was created centuries ago
by ancient Babylonian merchants, who tried to determine the
quickest way to transport their goods. By working backwards
using pi and the circumference of the Earth (known at that time
to be "approximately 500 sandal paces long"), they determined that
it was actually be a much shorter trip if they simply tunneled
straight through the Earth itself, and so they set to digging.
This proved to be far more difficult than they had ever
imagined, but in the process, the merchants accidentally
invented mining, which supplemented the mostly vegetable, meat,
and fur-based economy.
But even knowing all of this, there still remains the question
of what is pi? We know that pi is an irrational number, but what
does that mean? I, personally, have no idea what an "irrational"
number is, and all my attempts to find out what that phrase
means have lead only to more confusion and an unhealthy contempt
for math in general. It's easier to simply accept pi's role in
mathematics than to try to understand its savage mysteries. "How
do you find the circumference if a circle," someone might ask.
"Pi times the diameter," you reply. "Ok, but what the heck is
'pi'?" "I don't know, but I can't do much with circles without
it." I personally can't even begin to understand it beyond
memorizing the location of the pi button on my calculator.
Some of history's greatest mathematicians (not to be confused
with history's greatest mathemagicians) have devoted their
entire lives to trying to uncover the secrets of pi. Take the
famed Archimedes of Syracuse: now here was a guy who loved math.
The man spent his entire life coming up with the theories and
formulas that many of us would go on to forget soon after
graduating High School. Late in his life, he attempted to
unravel the secret of this incredible creation known as pi
(which the Romans called "Pi-us"). Archimedes attempted time and
time again to map the infernal number in its entirety, but each
subsequent attempt only put him further and further into the
never-ending bowels of this never-ending number. In fact, during
the capture of Syracuse in 212 BC, he was working on the problem
when he was accosted by a Roman soldier who fancied himself a
mathematician. Archimedes explained that he was attempting to
find out all the digits of pi, and the brash soldier responded
by saying that pi was, in fact, exactly three. Needless to say,
Archimedes flew into an unstoppable, geriatric, math-lover's
rage. Unfortunately, he was no match for the soldier's blade,
not even with the help of his so-called "Club of Archimedes"
(Which later generations would come to know as an "umbrella").
But the misfortune of a dead philosopher is no reason to feel
bummed out on Pi Day. Today is a day that we all remember that
pi is an important part of our lives, and at the same time a
terrible and endless void of repeating numbers that must be
feared and respected. The best way to acknowledge both of these
things is to do something pi-related. Reciting as many digits of
pi as you can remember is, ironically, an activity for squares.
The real hipsters will understand that "pi-related activities"
can mean things like eating pies, watching the movie Pi,
watching episodes of Magnum P.I., or
drinking a pina colada. Talking like a pirate, even though you
can't spell "pirate" without "pi," is not acceptable, as there
is already a holiday devoted to this particular activity. Eating
a pizza, however, is acceptable and is in fact encouraged, as
pizza is delicious. Plus, the east coast slang for a pizza is to
call it a "pie", and so your Pi Day can be full of delectable
treats and comics misunderstandings with your friends from New
In closing, I'd like to wish all of you a happy Pi Day. Have
some fun and think about numbers, but don't drink and drive, and
absolutely do not try to discover the final digit in pi. It is
merely a myth, and trying to find it may drive you mad.
Conversely, don't accidentally round pi down to three. Even the
Babylonians knew that wasn't so, and they didn't even have
moveable type, or DSL for that matter, so what excuse do you
If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out:
Black History Month!