Memorizing the Digits of Pi

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What’s the best way to memorize the digits of pi? Calvin Trillin explores the options, including using music, a form of poetry known as piems, and clustering the numbers. “Lu Chao, the official world-record holder, used a method he based in part on the Chinese language—one that enabled him to recite sixty-seven thousand eight hundred and ninety digits,” writes Trillin.  Even high-schoolers are tackling the challenge, particularly high-schoolers at New York City’s Facing History School, which awards the student with the best pi memory an iPod Touch during Pi Week.  This year’s winner: a sophomore named Jason Gil, who recited 162 digits.

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  1. AndreaY says:

    I believe the motivation boils down to both the personal challenge and the bragging rights. Remember, you can persuade a lot of people to do a lot of pointless things by framing them in the context of a competition.

    My college had its own annual pi competition, sponsored by an alum who had a bit of a Pi obsession and attended mostly by math and engineering majors. The first place prize was fairly trivial (a scholarship worth $314.15 – har!), but earning the envy and respect (and incredulity) of fellow students was almost priceless. At my best, I topped out at 283 digits. The longstanding champ four years running had well over a thousand.

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  2. Eric M. Jones says:

    When I was in school, just as exercise, I memorized Pi to 50 or so places. Not great, but I did it with one hand tied behind my back.

    But I think the number “e” (the base of natural logarithms, 2.718281828459045….and I didn’t have to look it up…) is more useful for certain real-life tasks: You should buy a new computer for example when, for the same money, you can buy one “e” times more powerful than the one you have.

    All similar upgrades and improvements for everything in life (and the universe) follow the same rule.

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  3. Nandrolone says:

    They do it for the same reason they practice kung fu. In any case, how can one be sure they’re not calculating it along the way, instead of memorizing it.

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  4. Uthor says:

    I thought pi was exactly 3?

    /Simpsons

    If I ever needed more than 3.14 (factors of safety are great!), the “pi” button on my calculator sufices. I spend my time actually using the number instead of remembering it.

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  5. Ada says:

    Ada likes Pi.

    @Psychohistorian – Ada says memorization is hardly a skill without its uses, and like many skills it requires practice. Practice with pi and you can benchmark your memory. See http://www.cow-pi.com/scores/top

    -Ada

    PS. Ada thinks Tau is for …

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