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Celebrating the world of pi

When someone happened to mention that Friday was Pi Day, we began debating what flavor to have and how many slices to order.

It was then we learned that Pi Day (note the spelling) isn’t all about one of our favorite desserts.

It’s actually an annual celebration of pi, which represents the numerical value of approximately 3.14 (thus, March 14). Pi, as you may remember from math class, is defined as the distance around a perfect circle (circumference) divided by the distance across the circle (diameter).

People have long been intrigued by pi. University of North Texas math professor John Quintanilla said some people’s fascination may be because pi is one of the first irrational numbers — a number that cannot be expressed as a fraction — learned in middle school.

For years, mathematicians debated whether pi calculated a string of numbers with no repeating pattern, Quintanilla said. Now, with the help of computers, mathematicians have calculated pi to at least 1.24 trillion digits. At, math experts claim they have used personal computers to run the calculation for pi out to more than 10 trillion digits.

The fascination with pi has led to a practice called piphilology, which is basically attempting to memorize pi to as many digits as possible. The world record holder lives in China and has reportedly memorized 67,890 digits. Only about 80 people worldwide have memorized pi to 1,000 digits or more.

On Friday, Denton library worker May Beth Everett tried for the record books by trying to write out pi to 1,010 digits. If Everett could write down at least 685 numbers, she would rank in the top 100 worldwide.

Everett told us she first challenged herself to memorize the first 100 digits of pi when her 54th birthday loomed last year as a sort of mental exercise. She memorized the first 100 digits fairly quickly then decided to work on memorizing the first 500 digits of the never-ending number.

Her 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. 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.

That’s pretty impressive in our book, and we congratulate Everett on making the attempt.

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, and the library is planning a lot of special events. Everett told us she will be there, trying to write pi to 1,010 digits.

We hope she makes it. In our view, her example is one to follow — not just because she’s accepting an enormous challenge, but also because she’s continually working on that mental exercise we mentioned.

As technology has progressed, it’s become too easy to let our smartphones do all the work. Most of us need to get back in the habit of flexing our brains more often — it’s important to our health and well-being.

Thanks, Mary Beth, and good luck next year.