Back Story

My Slice of American Pi

piMonday was National Pi (π) Day. Maybe you noticed.

Mrs. B. (3rd grade) was probably the first teacher to really excite me about math; Mrs. R. (7th and 8th) was arguably the most influential; Dr. F. (12th) was certainly the last. Notably, all my math role models were women; all of a certain age, every one of them formidable, confident and encouraging.  I don’t remember π being a thing in those days. I’d like to be able to associate it with them, to link them to the wonderful, weird math porn of π, but they remain chaste, at least in my memory.

No, the first one to get fast and loose with π was Son1 who, at about 12 and in a fit of online bravado, rattled off π to about 10 digits. In the sheltered confines of AOL’s early youth chat rooms such nerdliness instantly resulted in the entire family being summarily cut from all email access because AOL’s algorithms tagged it as a phone number, evidence he had —willfully! dangerously! outrageously!— violated privacy rules. Headaches of re-establishing email service aside, the transgression forever cemented π as a personal favorite.

I carried my fetish into the workplace and made a point of doing something to commemorate Pi Day at the office each year. Co-workers were kind enough to tolerate my geekdom with good nature. This week, two years after I last celebrated the day with any of them, not one but two former colleagues thought of me on March 14 and emailed just to say π — I mean, Hi. 

There are worse ways to be remembered.

Son2, doing his level best to infect the next generation with an enthusiasm for math, hosted Pi Olympics in his special ed class on Monday. One student managed to memorize the number out more than 20 digits. I offered to pay for the prize pie. How could I not?

I’m not sure what it is about π that gets us all so excited. Perhaps its irrationality, its centrality to something as simple and elegant as a circle, its lack of finality speak to us.  A constant, that nonetheless remains mysterious, tantalizes. That, and who doesn’t like an excuse to eat pie?


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