How to Memorize Pi if You’re a Word Person


Pi Day is always on March 14 (3/14), but this year it’s extra special because we get two more digits because of the year (3/14/15). The day offers something for the math-lover, of course, but also for the baked-goods lover (Bake a pi pie!), the music lover (Sing some Pi Day carols!), and the parade lover (March in a pi-rade!) What about the word lover?

Pi enthusiasts have performed amazing feats of memorization, reciting the number to thousands of digits. World record holder Chao Lu has recited it to 67,890 digits without an error. But memorizing pi doesn’t have to be done through numbers—it can also be done through words. This sentence "How I wish I could calculate pi" gives you pi to seven places. Just count the number of letters in each word—3, 1, 4, 1, 5…—and you get 3.141592.

Here are some other pi sentences from the Pi Wordplay page at Wolfram Mathworld.

May I have a large container of coffee? (3.1415926)

How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics. (3.14159265358979)

You can take that one a step further:

How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics, and if the lectures were boring or tiring, then any odd thinking was on quartic equations again. (3.1415926535897932384626433832795)

But why stop there? Sasha Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy composed a passage that takes pi out to 167 digits. Mike Keith’s Cadaeic Cadenza takes it out to nearly 4000 digits (the last line is “I end, whispering ad infinitums").

The technique can work in other languages too. If you prefer French, there’s this:

Moi, j'aime a faire connaitre un nombre utile aux sages. (3.1415926535)
“Me, I like to teach a number useful to wise ones.”

Pi writing, also known as Pilish, is a neat trick, but it can be hard to come up with 7, 8, and 9 letter words that fit just right into a valid sentence. There are other techniques that allow more freedom of expression on the language side. Akira Haraguchi has recited pi to 100,000 digits (his feat has not yet been recognized by Guinness), and he did it by taking advantage of the structure of Japanese words, which can be broken down into strings of a limited set of syllables. The first 15 digits of pi can be captured in a four-word, fifteen-syllable sentence:

Saishi ikokuni mukosan kowakunaku.
“The wife and children have gone abroad; the husband is not scared.”

Haraguchi’s system is particularly useful and flexible because he doesn’t assign a single syllable to each numeral. Japanese has a limited but large set of syllables, about 100. He takes advantage of all of them by assigning each of the numerals 0-9 to a whole group of syllables. For example, 1 can be a, i, u, e, hi, bi, pi, an, ah, hy, hyan, bya, or byan. This way, a far larger number of words can be converted into strings of numerals. According to a 2006 article about him in The Japan Times, Haraguchi was able to memorize so much by creating “a myriad of stories and poems, including a story about the legendary 12th-century hero Minamoto no Yoshitsune and his sidekick Benkei, who was a Buddhist monk.” Not that that makes it easy. He still had to internalize his system through years of practice, and he had to remember the stories. Still, it shows there are all kinds of ways to explore the infinite mysteries of pi, and that word lovers need not be left out of the fun.

Carl Court, Getty Images
Is There a Limit to How Many Balls You Can Juggle?
Carl Court, Getty Images
Carl Court, Getty Images

In 2017, a juggler named Alex Barron broke a record when he tossed 14 balls into the air and caught them each once. The feat is fascinating to watch, and it becomes even more impressive once you understand the physics behind it.

As WIRED explains in a new video, juggling any more than 14 balls at once may be physically impossible. Researchers who study the limits of juggling have found that the success of a performance relies on a number of different components. Speed, a.k.a. the juggler's capacity to move their hands in time to catch each ball as it lands, is a big one, but it's not the most important factor.

What really determines how many balls one person can juggle is their accuracy. An accurate juggler knows how to keep their balls from colliding in midair and make them land within arm's reach. If they can't pull that off, their act falls apart in seconds.

Breaking a juggling world record isn't the same as breaking a record for sprinting or shot put. With each new ball that's added to the routine, jugglers need to toss higher and move their hands faster, which means their throws need to be significantly more accurate than what's needed with just one ball fewer. And skill and hours of practice aren't always enough; according to expert jugglers, the current world records were likely made possible by a decent amount of luck.

For a closer look at the physics of juggling, check out the video below.

LaGuardia Airport Is Serving Up Personalized Short Stories to Passengers

In between purchasing a neck pillow and a bag full of snacks, guests flying out of the Marine Air Terminal at New York City's LaGuardia Airport can now order up an impromptu short story. As Hyperallergic reports, Landing Pages is an art project that connects writers to travelers looking for short fiction written in the time it takes to reach their destination.

The kiosk was set up as part of the ArtPort Residency, a new collaboration between the Queens Council on the Arts and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which sponsors different art projects at the Marine Air Terminal for a few months at a time.

Artists Lexie Smith and Gideon Jacobs set up the inaugural project at the terminal earlier this month. To request a story from Landing Pages, travelers can visit the kiosk and leave their flight number and contact information. While the passenger is in the air, Smith and Jacobs churn out a custom story, in the form of poetry, illustration, or prose, from their airport terminal workspace and send it out in time for it to reach the reader's phone before he or she lands.

The word count depends on the duration of the flight, and the subject matter often touches upon themes of travel and adventure. As Smith and Jacobs continue their residency through June 30, the pieces they complete will be made available at and in hard copy form at the airport kiosk.

Landing Pages isn't the first airport service to offer à la carte short stories. In 2011, a French startup debuted its short story-dispensing vending machine at Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport. Those stories come in three categories—one-minute, three-minute, and five-minute reads—and are printed out immediately so travelers can read them during their flight.

[h/t Hyperallergic]


More from mental floss studios