What’s The Proper Date On Which To Celebrate Circles? Not As Easy As Pi

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You’ve heard of the pie-man, but what about the pi-man? Poem by Jon Plotkin, all rights reserved.

Americans have a propensity to party. They’ll use any excuse. And so they celebrate March 14 — 3/14 in their style of designating dates — the closest they can come to approximating the value of pi (3.14159265 et cetera, ad infinitum  – which is Latin for ‘it keeps on going‘).

They use the date as an opportunity to have serious discussions about the wonders of transcendental numbers — and to eat pie.

Europeans, much more demure — and a little more accurate — celebrate the REAL pi date, the closest one can get to the actual number without going through mathematical contortions.

The day is July 22 — 22/7 when written in the European style.

Not only is 22/7 written as a fraction so that no insertion of a missing decimal point is required, but the actual value of this fraction is 3.14285714 et cetera, ad infinitum, which, to five decimal places, is closer to pi by 32 ten-thousandths (.00032) than the clumsy American version.

The European value is closer to pi by a little more than one one-hundredth of one per cent. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but under the right circumstances it could make the difference between landing on the moon or crashing (one one-hundredth of one per cent of the distance between the earth and the moon is 25 miles).

If we allow the Americans to use the year, designated with tens and units, they can come closer — for a while. 3/14/16 (3.1416) was only one ten-thousandth from the correct value. Next year’s pi day, 3/14/17, will still be closer — only eleven ten-thousandths from the correct value. The Americans will also win in 2018, but after that the Continentals will be superior for nearly a century — until 2114 to be precise.

Is it right to celebrate Pi Day on March 14? Copyright Image by Decoded Science, all rights reserved.

A More Exact Pi Date

In the American system, the date March 14, 1592 corresponds to pi to the first six decimal places. If we are seeking a good representative for pi, we could look for someone born on that date. Alas, no one of any repute, good or ill, was born on 3/14/1592.

However, if we round the number in the millionths place up (because the next number is six), we can call March 14, 1593 the REAL pi date, and on that date a person of quite good repute was born. His name was Georges de la Tour.

La Tour became known for his baroque paintings, one of which now hangs in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. And strangely, his connection to Pi Date does not end with his birth. It also involves his birthright. For his father was, yes, a baker. A master baker at that, who may very well have specialized in baking pie.

The Most Exact Value Of Pi Ever Recited By Man

For reasons known only to those who do it, reciting pi to a large number of decimal places has attained legendary status. To those of us who have trouble remembering names, phone numbers, and birthdays (don’t even ask about anniversaries), it is almost incomprehensible that anyone could memorize a sequence of a thousand, or even a hundred, numbers. I leave you with the record for reciting decimal digits of pi without further comment: 70,000.

The record (according to The Guinness Book of Records) is held by Rajveer Meena who took about ten hours to accomplish the feat. Unofficially, meaning not recognized by Guinness, over 100,000 digits have been recited.

A More Important Number Than Pi — And So, A More Important Date

A growing number of mathematicians claim that pi is all wrong as a representation of the circle’s numerical constant, and therefore that neither March 14 nor July 22 is a proper day for celebrating.

Pi, as the Pi Man found, is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. The circle, however, is defined in terms of its radius (r), the distance from the center to any point on the circle. Since the radius is half the circumference, the correct constant for circular reference is twice pi, now known as tau (τ). The equation for the circumference of a circle is now properly written as C=τr. τ  is approximated by the decimal 6.2831853 or the fraction 44/7.

Tau Day

Europeans will be dismayed at the prospect of losing their chance to celebrate the circle, because 44/7 does not represent a date since July has only 31 days.

On the other hand, Americans need not be disappointed. To two decimal places, τ=6.28. So Americans can celebrate Tau Day on June 28. Furthermore, the switch to Tau leaves something to look forward to. Though the REAL Pi Date is 3/14/1593 — long in the past — the REAL Tau Date is June 28, 3185.

But what should Americans eat on Tau Day while their European cousins eat their hearts out? Since τ is simply twice Pi, celebrants should eat a pie, then repeat. And yes, that would be a Tau-tology.

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