When you think of food-focused holidays in March, St. Patrick's Day may leap to mind. But before you start counting clover leaves, there's some other math to do. Pi Day, celebrated on March 14, pays homage to the mathematics of a circle with, of course, pie.
Pi plates, T-shirts and other retail items are helping Pi Day supporters take their math-themed celebration mainstream.
It's March, and you know what that means.
No, I'm not talking about March Madness.
I'm not referring to Mardi Gras.
I'm certainly not talking about the Ides of March. (Sorry, Caesar.)
I don't even mean St. Patrick's Day — so I won't be sharing recipes for Irish soda bread or scones, or tips on how to get beer just the right color of green.
I am, however, talking about a different celebration involving food. Get ready to roll out some dough, because it's almost Pi Day.
Yes, I've spelled it right — think back to geometry class. Pi represents the ratio of a circle's circumference (the distance around the circle) to its diameter (the distance across it). It's been represented by the 16th letter in the Greek alphabet since the 1700s.
For the math challenged, think of something that's round. Might I suggest pie? It's the perfect example because, in addition to being round (and popular — pie is the new cupcake, after all), it's pronounced the same way as pi.
Now, it's been a long time since I sat in math class and learned about pi. I do remember that everyone in the class, including the smart kids, had a snicker when the teacher introduced the word.
"Mmmm ... pie," we all said aloud and in unison. Mind you, this was pre-Homer Simpson and his infamous utterances. If only we had thought of it then, we could have had pie at our own Pi Day party.
Here's what I know about pi: Its value is about 3.14159265. It's often shortened further to 3.14, but it actually goes on forever. And, like the Prince song says, "Forever is a mighty long time." I also know there are equations that use pi to calculate the area of a circle. How you do it, I have no idea.
Judging from my math grade, that's all I knew back then, too. Apparently I'm a child left behind, and I'm OK with that. What I'm not OK with is that back in the day, I didn't capitalize on the nonmath part of pi. I didn't take the number 3.14 and think outside the circle.
Some genius grasped the idea before I did and started Pi Day — which, of course, is celebrated with pie. But when to celebrate it? Well, the number 3.14, in terms of the calendar, translates to the third month and the 14th day — so, March 14. It's been further suggested that 1:59 is the perfect time to celebrate, reflecting a few more places after the decimal.
I might not be able to calculate the area of a circle, but I sure as heck should have been able to figure out the right date and time to celebrate Pi Day.
Despite missing that mark, I have jumped on the Pi Day bandwagon. There are mathematics competitions, pi jewelry-making lessons and — no surprise here — pie-eating contests. I even participated one year in a Pi Fun Run. (And by "participate," I mean I walked; apparently pie isn't the breakfast of champions.)
Businesses that promote math, science and technology offer promotional Pi Day discounts. You can buy pi pie plates and clever pi T-shirts.
With all of those marketers on board, it's just a matter of time before we all — not just math enthusiasts — celebrate the day. I choose to believe that Pi Day is just overshadowed by St. Patrick's Day. I mean, come on — if you can count clover leaves, you can slice up a pie without any problem. Yes, pie — if not pi — really is easy.
I'm still a little bummed that I didn't come up with Pi Day. But just like the great mathematicians, I am pressing on. I'm searching for undiscovered territory when it comes to math- and science-related culinary holidays.
When that cold fusion debate is settled, I'll celebrate with gazpacho and other foods that are eaten cold but that, when you first try them, really seem like they should be cooked. Take steak tartar, for another example.
In the event that string theory becomes law, I'm prepared with dozens of recipes that use string cheese or string licorice.
As for which date those events will be celebrated on, we'll just have to wait to find out. Until then, I'll keep marking Pi Day with some old favorites — and my new creation that elevates mincemeat pie to the 10th power.