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Math nerds everywhere are digging into a slice of
pecan pie today to celebrate their most iconic irrational number: pi. After
all, March 14, or 3/14, is the perfect time to honor the essential mathematical
constant, whose first digits are 3.14. Pi, or π, is the
ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. Because it is irrational, it
can't be written as a fraction. Instead, it is an infinitely long, nonrepeating
number.

But how was this irrational number discovered, and
after thousands of years of being studied, does this number still have any
secrets? From the number's ancient origins to its murky future, here are some
of the most surprising facts about pi.

##
__Memorizing
pi__

__Memorizing pi__
The record for the most digits of pi memorized
belongs to Rajveer Meena of Vellore, India, who recited 70,000 decimal places
of pi on March 21, 2015, according
to Guinness World Records. Previously, Chao Lu, of China, who recited pi
from memory to 67,890 places in 2005, held the record, according to Guinness
World Records.

The unofficial record holder is Akira Haraguchi, who
videotaped a performance of his recitation of 100,000 decimal places of pi in
2005, and more recently topped 117,000 decimal places, the Guardian reported.

Number
enthusiasts have memorized many digits of pi. Many people use memory
aids, such as mnemonic techniques known as piphilology, to help them
remember. Often, they use poems written in Pilish (in which the number of
letters in each word corresponds to a digit of pi), such as this excerpt:

*How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics.**Now I fall, a tired suburbian in liquid under the trees,**Drifting alongside forests simmering red in the twilight over Europe.*

##
__There's
a pi "language"__

__There's a pi "language"__
Literary nerds invented a dialect known as Pilish,
in which the numbers of letters in successive words match the digits of pi. For
example, Mike Keith wrote the book "Not A Wake" (Vinculum Press,
2010) entirely in Pilish:

Now I fall, a tired suburbian in liquid under the trees, Drifting alongside forests simmering red in the twilight over Europe.

("Now" has three letters, "I"
has one letter, "fall" has four letters, and so on.)

##
__Exponential
increase__

__Exponential increase__
Because pi is an infinite number, humans will, by
definition, never determine every single digit of pi. However, the number of
decimal places calculated has grown exponentially since pi's first use.

The
Babylonians thought the fraction 3 1/8 was good enough in 2000 B.C., while the
ancient Chinese and the writers of the Old Testament (Kings 7:23) seemed
perfectly happy to use the integer 3. But by 1665, Sir Isaac Newton had
calculated pi to 16 decimal places. By 1719, French mathematician Thomas Fantet
de Lagny had calculated 127 decimal places, according to "A History of
Pi" (St. Martin's Press, 1976).

The advent of computers radically improved humans'
knowledge of pi. Between 1949 and 1967, the number of known decimal places of
pi skyrocketed from 2,037 on the ENIAC computer to 500,000 on the CDC 6600 in
Paris, according to "A History of Pi" (St. Martin's Press, 1976). And
late last year, Peter Trueb, a scientist at the Swiss company Dectris Ltd.,
used a multithreaded computer program to calculate 22,459,157,718,361 digits of
pi over the course of 105 days, according to the
group.

##
__Hand-calculating
pi__

__Hand-calculating pi__
Those who are hoping to calculate pi using an
old-fashioned technique can accomplish the task using a ruler, a can and a
piece of string, or a protractor and a pencil. The downside of the can method
is that it requires a can that is actually round, and the accuracy is limited
by how well a person can loop string around its circumference. Similarly,
drawing a circle with a protractor and then measuring its diameter or radius
with a ruler involves a fair amount of dexterity and precision

**.**
A more precise option is to use geometry. Break up a
circle into multiple segments (such as eight or 10 pizza slices). Then,
calculate the length of a straight line that would turn the slice into an
isosceles triangle, which has two sides of equal length. Adding up all the sides
yields a rough approximation for pi. The more slices you create, the more
accurate the approximation of pi will be.

##
__Discovery
of pi__

__Discovery of pi__
The ancient
Babylonians knew of pi's existence nearly 4,000 years ago. A
Babylonian tablet from between 1900 B.C. and 1680 B.C. calculates pi as 3.125,
and the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus of 1650 B.C., a famous Egyptian mathematical
document, lists a value of 3.1605.

The King James Bible (I Kings 7:23) gives an
approximation of pi in cubits, an archaic unit of length corresponding to the
length of the forearm from the elbow to the middle finger tip (estimated at
about 18 inches, or 46 centimeters), according to the
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. The Greek mathematician Archimedes
(287-212 B.C.) approximated pi using the Pythagorean
theorem, a geometric relationship between the length of a triangle's sides
and the area of the polygons inside and outside of circles.

##
__Pi
rebranded__

__Pi rebranded__
Prior to the association of the symbol pi with the
circle constant, mathematicians had to say a mouthful to even describe the
number. One phrase found in the old math books was the Latin phrase
"quantitas in quam cum multiflicetur diameter, proveniet circumferencia,"
which roughly translates to "the quantity which, when the diameter is
multiplied by it, yields the circumference," according
to History Today.

The irrational number rocketed to fame when Swiss
polymath Leonhard
Euler used it in 1737 in his disquisitions on trigonometry. But it
didn't get its pithier, Greek-symbol name from Euler. The first mention of pi
as such occurred in a book by a lesser-known mathematician, William Jones, who
used it in 1706 in his book "Synopsis Palmariorum Matheseos." Jones
likely used the symbol for pi to denote the periphery of a circle, according to
the book "A History of Pi," (St. Martin's Press, 1976).

##
__Is
pi normal__

__Is pi normal__
Pi is definitely weird, but is it normal? Though
mathematicians have plumbed many of the mysteries of this irrational number,
there are still some unanswered questions.

Mathematicians still don't know whether pi belongs
in the club of so-called normal numbers — or numbers that have the same
frequency of all the digits — meaning that 0 through 9 each occur 10 percent of
the time, according
to Trueb's website pi2e.ch. In a paper published Nov. 30, 2016, in the preprint journal arXiv, Trueb
calculated that, at least based on the first 2.24 trillion digits, the
frequency of the numbers 0 through 9 suggest pi is normal. Of course, given
that pi has an infinite number of digits, the only way to show this for sure is
to create an airtight math proof. So far, proofs for this most famous of
irrational numbers has eluded scientists, though they have come up with some
bounds on the properties and distribution of its digits.

##
__Pi
sounds divine__

__Pi sounds divine__
While scientists don't know whether pi is normal,
they have a better understanding of its other traits. Eighteen-century
mathematician Johann
Heinrich Lambert proved pi's irrationality by expressing the tangent
of x using a continued fraction.

Later, mathematicians showed that pi was also
transcendental. In math terminology, transcendental means the number can't be
the solution to any polynomial that has rational number coefficients. In other
words, there's no finite, root-finding formula that can be used to calculate pi
using rational numbers.

##
__Downgrading
pi__

__Downgrading pi__
While many mathletes are enamored with pi, there is
a resistance movement growing. Some argue that pi is a derived quantity, and
that the value tau (equal to twice pi) is a more intuitive irrational number.

Tau directly relates the circumference to the radius,
which is a more mathematically consequential value, Michael Hartl, author of
the "Tau Manifesto," previously
told Live Science. Tau also works better in trigonometric calculations, so
that tau/4 radians corresponds to an angle that sweeps a quarter of a circle,
for instance.

This post was written by Usman Abrar. To contact the
writer write to iamusamn93@gmail.com.
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