Happy Pi Day!

In honor of Pi Day (3/14), I’ll share a mnemonic for 167 digits of pi, which I developed with some friends in the mid-’90s.

Many people know the common mnemonic: “How I need a drink, alcoholic of course, after the tough lectures involving quantum mechanics.” Count the number of letters in each word and stick a decimal point after the 3, and you get: 3.14159265358979, which is already more than you need for most purposes. The thirty-second digit after the decimal point is a zero, which in this mnemonic we represent by the end of a sentence. Here’s 167 digits’ worth:

How I need a drink, alcoholic of course, after the tough lectures involving quantum mechanics; but we did estimate some digits by making very bad, not accurate, but so greatly efficient tools! In quaintly valuable ways, a dedicated student — I, Volokh, Alexander — can determine beautiful and curious stuff, O! Smart, gorgeous me! Descartes himself knew wonderful ways that could ascertain it too! Revered, glorious — a wicked dude! Behold an unending number: pi! Thinkers’ ceaseless agonizing produces little, if anything! For this constant, it stops not — just as e, I suppose. Vainly, ancient geometers computed it — a task undoable. Legendre, Adrien Marie: ‘I say pi rational is not!’ Adrien proved this theorem. Therefore, all doubters have made errors. (Everybody that’s Greek.) Today, counting is as bad a problem as years ago, maybe centuries even. Moreover, I do consider that variable x, y, z, wouldn’t much avail. Is constant like i? No, buffoon!

Note that the word “greatly” in the first sentence was originally “f**king”, but this is a family blog.

This was written up in the March 18, 1996 issue of The Scientist magazine (at the link you’ll also find a picture of me from back then) and was also mentioned in Ivars Peterson’s MathTrek (possibly called Mathland then) from March 11, 1996. As a stocking stuffer, you might try David Blatner’s The Joy of Pi (1997), which quotes me on the subject.

Antreas Hatzipolakis compiled a list of pi mnemonics in the late 1990s, and some other pi links are here. One of the best pi mnemonics, which gets up to 740 digits, is a retelling of Poe’s The Raven; here’s its first stanza: [UPDATE: Commenter raederle points out that this is actually the beginning of a super-long work called Cadaeic Cadenza by Mike Keith, which is itself a mnemonic for pi and seems to have about 4000-5000 words.]

Poe, E.
Near A Raven

Midnights so dreary, tired and weary.
Silently pondering volumes extolling all by-now obsolete lore.
During my rather long nap – the weirdest tap!
An ominous vibrating sound disturbing my chamber’s antedoor.
“This”, I whispered quietly, “I ignore”.

Of course, a classic, even if it doesn’t cite me, is Petr Beckmann’s A History of Pi (1976).