Phone Pi

By JoAnne Hewett | March 14, 2010 1:18 pm

Today is the much celebrated pi-day . Ok, perhaps it’s not that big a holiday – I don’t think Hallmark is selling any pi-day cards yet – but anyone who uses google today knows that something mathematical and geeky is being honored. I promise not to go into diatribes about calculations of the first few million digits of pi, or how many digits one needs to keep in order to calculate the radius of the universe to atomic accuracy. Instead, I merely want to relay a simple short story a colleague of mine recounted to me years ago.

Several years ago, before pi-day was famous, a student called the phone number associated with the digits in pi that appear after the decimal point, i.e., 1-415-926-5358. Apparently this is rather common now, and in fact, appears to be promoted as a mnemonic for the first 10 decimal places for those folks we need to have those numbers handy at all times. But this story happened in earlier times, back before the Bay Area split into several area codes. And, as the clever reader has already guessed, that student reached the SLAC main gate. How cool to phone pi and reach the main gate of a major national scientific research laboratory!

Alas, time and phone numbers march on, and nowadays phoning pi yields a “your call cannot be completed as dialed” message. (And I’m told that I cannot publish this post without noting that 3-14-15 will be a more accurate pi day.)

  • Jason

    Great, now I want to know how many digits one needs to keep in order to calculate the radius of the universe to atomic accuracy, and I’LL NEVER KNOW! ;;_;;

  • Neal J. King

    Another phone-number confusion story:

    Years ago, a new branch of Bank of America got a new phone number that was very close (small Hamming distance) to the number that had been used by a biophysics lab at UC Berkeley for years. So the lab started to get a lot of phone calls for BoA, through customer misdial.

    The lab folks called BoA to see if they could get them to change their number: No dice.

    So they devised the following action plan: Whenever anyone called for BoA, they answered: “Bank of America is out of money, call Wells Fargo.”

    The BoA number was changed within a week.

  • Tarun

    3-14-16 would be even more accurate (btw, ’rounding the Pi’ sounds so redundant :).

  • Rafael Tadeu de Matos Ribeiro

    I’m Brazilian and crazy about science.
    I’d like to congratulate you for the very interesting contents of this blog.
    I have a science blog, written in Portuguese (soon it’ll have posts in English as well). Take a look at this link:

    I hope we can change information, or develop a good “blogger” relationship. My e-mail address is:
    How can I keep contact with you?
    Rafael Tadeu de Matos Ribeiro – Brazil

  • chris y

    It’s only pi day in the United States and places that use their date notation. The rest of us don’t get pi day, although 14th January 2059 will be a sop to younger readers.

    We got e-day though, 27/1/82 (or 83, depending how you feel about rounding).

  • Paige

    Wouldn’t it be more correct to say: “3-14-15 will be a more precise pi day” ??

  • john

    3-14-15 may be a more precise pi day if you choose to truncate pi.

    rounding pi would make it 3-14-16, which might be just a bit more precise.


  • Eunoia

    3-14 of any american year, at 1:59:27 (33 seconds before 2 in the morning) surely 😉

  • Alok Bakshi

    I will rather celebrate PI day on 22nd of July :)

  • Rod

    The most precise pi day (rounding up) would have been in 1593, the year in which the Vatican opened its trial of Giordano Bruno, Dominican cosmologist.


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