A Life Without Pi: 6 Reasons We’re Celebrating This Pi Day

Cherry_pie_with_PiImagine a world without pi. We’re not talking squares everywhere — a pi-less planet could mean no cell phones, no radios, no air travel or off-track betting. Here, we delve into our own (admittedly unscientific) assessment of how the world would be different without pi. 

Caveat: if we’re being (in the true spirit of Pi Day) a bit nerdy about all this, we’d disclose that pi, a constant abbreviated as 3.14159, is really just a means of expressing the shape of a circle (the ratio of its circumference to its diameter, to be precise). Even without pi, we’d still have circles — we just wouldn’t have any coherent means of expressing them, and calculating circular stuff would be an imperfect science.

Without further ado, here are six things we'd miss if we didn't have pi:

1. Road Trips

On the most fundamental level, pi enables us to accurately calculate — and create — circles. So imagine if your car’s wheels were each a little different, each one just slightly off-center. Not only would you spend thousands at the mechanic; you’d also have a less comfy ride. We’re betting that commute down to Silicon Valley looks a lot less tempting...

2. Shortcuts

According to “Dr. Math” (whom we trust, because we found him on the internet), pi plays an essential role in calculating air travel time and distance. Why? “When planes fly great distances, they are actually flying on an arc of a circle,” Dr. Math explains — because, you know, the Earth is round. No more jetting off to Fiji at a moment’s notice: in a world without pi, you’re riding mules.

3. Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Real Housewives

That’s right: you need pi to watch TV. Engineers use pi to calculate and optimize sound waves, so without pi, you’d probably miss the subtlety in those awkward silences between the Underwoods. Also: no radio, and maybe no telephones. Maybe our voices would become vestigial — who knows?

4. What (Never) Happened in Vegas

Back to Dr. Math for some expertise: “Everyone's favorite distribution (normal or Gaussian) has pi in the formula, and it is used in all areas of engineering to simulate unknown factors and loading conditions.” Wait...what? Short version: pi plays a key role in the formulas of probability and statistics — so without pi, gambling becomes a lot less predictable. And, arguably, more fun. But who would open a casino if the house never won?

5. Froot Loops, bubbles, basketballs…

This video gives a possibly unfounded, but kind of funny, interpretation of the world without pi — or, more accurately, a world without round stuff.

 


Prince-of-pi6. Pi Day

Not to go all meta on you, but without pi, there wouldn’t be a Pi Day, which has become just an excuse to be both nerdy (for those of you who love pi, as in the number) and gluttonous (there is usually pie-with-an-e involved).

Wikipedia brings us this marvelous image of physicist Larry Shaw, who invented Pi Day and celebrated the inaugural holiday right here in San Francisco, at the Exploratorium.

And if you just can’t get enough pi, there a website for that. PiDay.org delves into the first 1 million digits of pi and even has a video of someone playing the first of those digits on the piano:

But we don’t want to keep you here too long — go enjoy your world full of pi. Happy Pi Day!

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