At first, May Beth Everett challenged herself to memorize the first 100 digits of pi as her 54th birthday loomed last year.
“I did it as sort of a mental exercise,” Everett said.
The Denton library worker memorized the first 100 digits fairly quickly, likening it to memorizing 10 phone numbers. She then decided to move the bar and worked on memorizing the first 500 digits of the never-ending number that represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, often rounded to 3.14.
On Friday, known as Pi Day because it fell on 3/14, or March 14, she made a go at the record books by trying to write out pi to 1,010 digits.
Chao Lu of China holds the world record, having memorized pi to 67,890 digits. Only about 80 people worldwide have memorized pi to 1,000 digits or more, with fewer than 50 of them in the U.S.
If Everett could write down at least 685 numbers, she would rank in the top 100 worldwide.
University of North Texas math professor John Quintanilla said some people’s fascination with pi may be because it’s one of the first irrational numbers — a number that cannot be expressed as a fraction — learned in middle school. That’s when most are taught the association between pi and measuring circles, too, he said.
For many years, mathematicians debated whether pi calculated a string of numbers with no repeating pattern, Quintanilla said.
With the help of computers, mathematicians have calculated pi to at least 1.24 trillion digits. At Numberworld.org, math experts claim they have used personal computers to run the calculation for pi out to more than 10 trillion digits. The memorizing of digits even has a name — it’s known as piphilology.
Everett has worked at the North Branch Library since 1995. Even though grown-ups and children know her for her guitar-playing at story time, Everett has seen the library evolve a lot over the years, too, particularly with information technology.
“You have to learn something new every day,” she said.
Co-workers weren’t sure at first why they were finding scraps of paper around the break room with what seemed to be random digits written on them, according to branch manager Kimberly Wells.
But Everett eventually let them in on her goal, and three were on hand Friday, with others keeping tabs nearby, when she tried to write out pi to 1,010 digits.
She gave it three tries, but her first try was her best. She made it to 514 digits before she stumbled.
She knew she had called out the wrong number as soon as she did it, but she still had to start over. Those are the rules to make it on the Pi World Ranking List, Wells said.
During her second attempt, Everett suddenly stopped before she hit the first 100 digits. During her third attempt, she stumbled before she got to the 400th digit. By then, nearly 30 minutes had gone by and she was taxed.
Next year, 3/14/15, is Super Pi Day, since the month, day and year line up the same as the first five digits of pi. The library is planning a lot of special events for Super Pi Day, Wells said.
And Everett will be there again, trying to write pi to 1,010 digits.
“Next year!” she said.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.