Data Tastes Better With Ice Cream

Staunton Cherry Pie.  Photo courtesy of Tom Feary.

One day, years ago, I was picking up my children from school. My son, who was in Kindergarten, said “it’s pie week.” I thought about it, and yes, we were approaching March 14th, which numerically is 3.14, also known as Pi Day. I knew about this event, but I didn’t know they were celebrating it in schools. Presumably, my son’s teacher had mentioned it in class. I asked my kids if we should buy pies and share with the class on March 14th? Yes! The children were all in favour of this. How could they say no?

The night before Pi Day I brought home four pies, two for each class of kids. I had forgotten to tell my wife, and she asked “What are these for?” I told her. She said Pi Day was not a thing, and besides, she added, the teachers won’t take time away from teaching to serve pie. I put one pie in the fridge for ourselves, and I took the other three pies to work the next day.

Although Pi Day had been celebrated before, it didn’t elicit excitement. To change this, I put the pie in the coffee room and sent out a pithy email at 1:59 pm. You know, 3.14159, get it? It has well received.

That night I asked the kids what they did at school for Pi Day. Nothing, it turned out. I asked my son, why did he say it was Pie Week? “I just wanted to eat some pie.” My wife gave me that look again, and shook her head. “Pi Day is not a thing” she repeated.  Her disbelief sent me online. Yes, there was such a thing as Pi Day. But my jaw dropped when I saw the photograph on the Wikipedia page, showing the founder of Pi Day at an event. I experienced a startling déjà vu.

When I was in my twenties, I took a trip to San Francisco. At the end of each day I would meet a family friend at his workplace, and he would drive us home. One day I stopped in, and he offered a slice of pie. Their office celebrated Pi Day on March 14. “It’s just a little thing I started up around the Exploratorium,” he said. The man who handed me that pie was Larry Shaw. He was the founder of Pi Day, he was on the photo on Wikipedia, and he had handed one of the earliest slices of Pi Day pie. I had completely forgotten this random moment, until my son reminded me by accident. I never knew that Larry started this tradition until I saw it online.

I have been organizing Pi Day events at my workplace ever since. It’s a time to pause and reflect on how math that has improved our lives in the past year. As we stand there eating pie, my math-y colleagues talk about the great work we have done around the office. We seal the deal with food which, research shows, improves the likelihood that people will agree.

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