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Pi Day Is the Exploratorium's Greatest Contribution to Western Civilization

Adam L. Brinklow | March 13, 2014 | Story

March 14 is Pi Day. Get it? Because the date is 3/14? The first three digits of pi? Come on. We know it's math, but it's still great.

Scoff if you will, but Pi Day is a fine and noble San Francisco tradition with roots in our very own science museum, the Exploratorium.

Exploratorium physicist Larry Shaw organized the first Pi Day in 1988. Shaw thought this critical but little-understood mathematical concept (we don't need to remind you that it's the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter) needed more public exposure. Being an Exploratorium staffer, he felt the best way to accomplish this was to have everyone ceremonially march around the "Pi Shrine" (a circular brass plaque inscribed with 100 or do digits of pi) and then eat apple pie. Dr. Shaw no longer works at the Exploratorium, but he still leads the procession every year.

When asked to explain the tradition, forty-three year Exploratorium veteran Ron Hipschman says, "How can we explain ourselves? It's the Exploratorium, whimsy is what we do."

The Exploratorium still celebrates Pi Day with free admission and pi-themed events every year. A new Pi Shrine was installed in the public plaza when they moved to Pier 15 last year. But Pi Day is as universally constant as pi itself: New York's National Museum of Mathematics observes Pi Day each year. Eateries in Chicago offer discounts on pie in honor of the date. In South Africa they play Pi Ball—volleyball on a circular court.

Hipschman has been trying to edit Wikipedia to dub Shaw the "Prince of Pi" but he blames what he calls "fascist" editors for blocking the changes. We suggest all true and geeky San Franciscans acknowledge his royal sovereignty tomorrow anyway.

Because gosh darn it, if our city can lay claim to the Emperor of the United States, why not have the Prince of Pi too?

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