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Dave Olson, Published March 13 2013

Today’s Pi Day calls for doughy decimal system

MOORHEAD – Today’s Pi Day gives math enthusiasts across the country something to sink their teeth into.

They’ll be doing just that at Concordia College in Moorhead, where math professor Bill Tomhave plans to have about 30 pies on hand to serve to faculty, students and passersby.

“Once the word is out, we usually draw from all over the place. We have fun with it,” Tomhave said, referring to Pi Day, which the school’s math department has observed for about the past 15 years.

Nationally, the day is a time to celebrate pi, the mathematical constant that emerges when a circle’s circumference is divided by its diameter, an exercise that results in a number that’s been calculated to more than 1 trillion digits and starts out 3.14 – hence its March 14 celebration.

After 3.14, it goes on from there.

Forever.

With no repeating pattern.

Given its notoriety, does Tomhave ascribe any mystical significance to the number?

That would be pie in the sky, said Tomhave, who views every integer, digit and decimal as something special.

“All numbers turn out to be interesting in one way or another,” said Tomhave, adding that pi, which also goes by the Greek letter “p,” is an irrational number, meaning it cannot be expressed as a common fraction of two whole numbers.

Instead, pi has “an infinite, nonrepeating digital expansion” following its decimal point, Tomhave said. That’s the part that goes on forever and leads some math fans to try memorizing as many of pi’s digits as they can.

According to Guinness World Records, one man is documented as having memorized pi to nearly 68,000 places, although there are reports of another man having memorized pi to 100,000 digits.

In 1999, a Fargo South High student named Jake Enget received international attention by memorizing 1,001 digits. The following year, he bettered that mark by reciting 5,005 digits.

In Breckenridge, Minn., high school math teacher Stan Goldade and his students have celebrated Pi Day annually for about 20 years with pi memorization contests, pie-eating contests and other activities.

“I’ve had students memorize a couple hundred digits fairly quickly,” Goldade said. “It’s impressive when they start rattling off.”

But today will be a quiet Pi Day around Breckenridge High, as Goldade and about 25 of his students will be in Fergus Falls, Minn., competing in a Knowledge Bowl tournament.

Minnesota State University Moorhead is currently on break, but exactly one month after Pi Day, on April 14, the school’s Math Club holds an annual event called Pie Your Professor.

Students pay a few dollars for the privilege of smooshing cream-filled pie tins into instructors’ faces, and it’s a major fundraiser for the club, according to Adam Goyt, the club’s adviser.

At Concordia today, Tomhave said they will carry on a Pi Day tradition by adding links to a colorful paper chain that attempts to express pi, with each link containing a digit.

“We’ve got a long chain. It drapes all over the room,” Tomhave said.


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555