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Mouthful of Pi
156 digits. Top that.
"I could go to Vegas. Learn to play Black Jack. Memorize four hundred fifty two consecutive digits of pi, a few hundred measly cards are easy."
Fred, Angel

A quick way to show that a character is a genius is to have him recite pi to an absurd number of places. With its endless parade of decimal digits, π has both mystique and geek cred - it has its own day, it's splashed across mugs and T-shirts, calculating 1-10 millions of digits of π is a very common way of testing your CPU's power, and it's honored by movies and songs. Most of us never memorize it past a few places, so anyone who can fire off a hundred surely must be a genius, right?

For the record, odds are that your computer "knows" pi to the nearest multiple of 2^-62, about 2.168 * 10^-19, so about eighteen reliable digits. Ditto for e. You can compute it much more precisely, but you'll need to make your own storage.

The truth is, only a handful of digits are needed for most applications - only 11 decimal places are needed to calculate the circumference of the Earth to a millimeternote , while only 42(?) are needed to find the circumference of a circle the size of the entire universe to within less than the diameter of a single proton. There's not much point in memorizing a hundred places other than to show off. (And indeed, after that many digits you can use whatever wrong digits you want because the math will still be pretty darn close - though you'll have a lot of mathematicians gritting their teeth...) For obvious reasons, this is a go-to Overly-Long Gag. For reference, here's a handy guide, and another.

Perhaps the reason Reed Richards Is Useless is because he spends his time memorizing numbers he'll never use. It's also a common attribute of the Absent-Minded Professor and the TV Genius, as the contrast is a wonderful thing to show or rant about.

Inversely, a quick way to show that a character is stupid is have him not know what pi is at all: "Apple or cherry?"

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 

     Comic Books 
  • Discussed Trope in a Cartoon History of the Universe footnote—the author believes that the accuracy of Pi is a pretty good indicator of a civilization's general mathematical/scientific ability. He then goes on to point out that The Bible specifies that the dimensions of the bronze basin for the Temple should be 10 cubits across, and 30 cubits around, putting the value of Pi at exactly three.
    Solomon: And now you know why I hired outside contractors as the architects!

    Fanfics 
  • Mentioned as a subversion in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, chapter nine, to lampshade Harry's broader intellect as compared to Hermione's Book Smarts. Harry knows pi down to six decimals because that's accurate enough for most practical purposes. Hermione knows a hundred decimals because that was what was printed in her math textbook.

    Film 
  • This is the motif of Darren Aronofsky's film π. The protagonist is a Mad Mathematician who seems to discover a 216-digit number that holds the Meaning of Life. In the climax of the film, he recites the numbers while having a breakdown. Ironically, the actual number pi appears nowhere in the movie except the opening credits.
  • In Never Been Kissed, the Denominators put on a bake sale with a banner reading: "Pie = $1.00. Pi = 3.1457869986". Only the first two digits after that decimal point are correct, the rest is gibberish.
  • In Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian the protagonist and his "girlfriend" have to solve a riddle to which the answer is Pi (something about the heart of the tomb of the pharaoh). They were helped by Bobblehead Einsteins, who proceed to tell them the (supposedly) correct combination. The protagonist constantly mixes them up, but the girlfriend remembers the numbers correctly. Apparently pi is less than ten digits long.
  • In The Film of the Book Life of Pi, the titular character writes it to a ludicrous length while introducing himself in elementary school. He does this to hopefully impress the kids enough so they would stop intentionally mispronouncing his actual name, Piscine, as "pissing." It works. From that day on, he's just "Pi."

    Literature 
  • In The Ancestral Trail, Richard defeats Madelbiot by asking him "What is the complete value of pi?"
  • Discworld:
    • The numbers-obsessed Mr. Bent from Making Money mentions that he'd mastered all the numbers except pi, but was working on it in his spare time and was sure it would give in sooner or later.
    • Inverted in Moist's previous adventure, Going Postal. The Post Office's old sorting engine was designed by the infamous Bergholt Stuttley "Bloody Stupid" Johnson, who decided that pi was untidy, what with all that "never ending" nonsense, and therefore designed the crucial cog of the engine to have a pi that was exactly 3. This was all well and good until they started getting letters that hadn't been written yet, and then letters that would have gotten written if the writer hadn't written a different letter instead, and then letters that would never have been written in this particular leg of the Trousers of Time but were starting to bleed over from other legs because the engine was hurting for things to sort.
  • In one of the books in Bryan Davis' Dragons in Our Midst series, part-dragon genius Ashley has to verbally calculate the square root of pi out to a certain number of digits as a passcode for her own (artificially intelligent, talking, almost-as-smart-as-her) computer.
  • In the novel version of Carl Sagan's Contact it is discovered that at a particular distant point of the base 11 expression of pi a long sequence of 0 and 1's occurs that forms a bitmap of a circle. (Incidentially, pi is believed to be a normal number, which means that any sequence of numbers will eventually occur, with a frequency that corresponds to its random probability.)
  • Cadaeic Cadenza, a pi mnemonic taken to 14 chapters and 3835 digits, containing "Pilish" imitations of The Raven, Hamlet, etc. And then the author went even further with Not A Wake, which encodes over ten thousand digits.
  • Colin from An Abundance of Katherines by John Green memorized the first 99 digits of pi when he was ten by making up a 99-word sentence in which then first letter of each word corresponds to a digit of pi (a=1, b=2, etc.).
  • Bree from jPod did a grade-school report on pi and wound up becoming slightly freakishly obsessed with it.
  • In Anathem, chapter four of "The Book" consists of a large number of digits of pi, which avout are expected to memorize as a punishment.
  • In Cryptonomicon, Enoch Root says that where he grew up, memorising the digits of Pi was as close as they got to entertainment.
  • Two characters in Douglas Coupland's Microserfs engage in what the narrator calls a "pi fight".
  • The title character from Life of Pi earns his nickname by being able to recite over two whole blackboards worth of digits in front of the classroom. He did this because his full name is Piscine, which sounds a lot like "pissing", and he wanted to get a different nickname before his classmates made that connection.
  • In one of the Time Warp Trio books, the main characters Logic Bomb a security robot that demands their ID numbers (which they don't have) by telling it that their numbers are three different irrational numbers, one of which is pi. The robot's attempts to calculate the exact decimal values of these numbers cause it to self-destruct.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On Stargate Atlantis, Rodney tracked his memory loss by reciting pi to twelve places every so often.
  • In an episode of Sliders, Quinn Mallory recites pi to 13 places while playing a full-contact trivia/ball game on a giant Othello board.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Doctor reels off the square root of pi to thirty decimal places in the episode "Midnight". And the possessed woman who's copying everything he says recites it too. At the same time. Out of sync by several digits. By now everyone's realized that something is very wrong with the woman, but it's at this point when they start getting suspicious of the Doctor, too. Completely Played for Drama.
    • In the original series episode "The Five Doctors" the correct path across a trapped chessboard is based on pi... somehow. The Master has it memorized well enough to dance across the chessboard, and the First Doctor knows enough to get himself and Tegan across.
  • Walter from Fringe recited pi to 101 places to help him sleep. And the code to a combination lock on his old garage is 314159. And in The Plateau, video of a mentally impaired man who's been made intelligent by an experimental drug trial show him reciting the digits of pi to 1000 decimal places while solving differential equations in his head.
  • Happens in Cutey Honey The Live to show that Honey Kisaragi/Cutey Honey and Miki Saotome/Sister Miki are not normal.
  • An episode of Clarissa Explains It All featured the title character and her brother on a game show, where he blows the question "What is pi?" with the standard flavors-of-pi mistake. Since he prides himself on being a child prodigy, and hates when people prove he's not, this sends him into a period of stunned shock...from which he resurfaces in time to interrupt his sister and prevent her from winning them the game.
  • Grant has 3.14 as his "prisoner number" in Mythbusters's "Prison Escape" myth.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Wolf in the Fold", Spock Logic Bombs a villain who's taken over the Enterprise's computer by instructing it to "compute to the last decimal place the value of pi".
  • As noted in the page quote, Fred from Angel has memorized 452 digits of pi. In the same scene the quote comes from, she scares away a homeless guy by reciting it.
  • In the first episode of Malcolm in the Middle, on Malcolm's first day in the gifted class, Eraserhead challenges him to recite π to 50 places. Malcolm shoos him away.

    Magazines 

    Music 
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's "White & Nerdy" - "My myspace page is so totally pimped out/ Got people beggin' for my top 8 spaces/ Yo, I know pi to a thousand places/ Ain't got no grills, but I still wear braces..."
  • Kate Bush wrote a song called "π", about a mathematician who's fascinated with the number, and some verses consist of her singing a few hundred digits.
  • The Hard N Phirm song linked above is really more a parody of this.
  • Songs To Wear Pants To once wrote a song to serve as a mnemonic for the first 50 digits of pi. Just count the letters in each word:
    Man, I can't — I shan't — formulate an anthem where the words comprise mnemonics, dreaded mnemonics for pi. The numerals just bother me always, even the dry anterior. Try to request something lower (zero) in numerary aptitude. Even I, pantaloon gallant, I cannot actualize the requested mnemonics, the leading fifty, I...
  • No points for guessing what famous song Public Enema used as the framework for their musical mnemonic unofficially titled "Mathematical Pi." Memorize the chorus and play along with Mouthful of Pi at home today!
  • The rhyme "Secant, tangent, cosine, sine/Three point one four one five nine" appears in football chants/cheers at particularly nerdy colleges.
  • This cover of "Ren'ai Circulation" is basically just a Kana Hanazawa sound-alike singing the first 400 or so digits of pi.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Foxtrot:
    • One strip had Jason Fox reciting enough digits of pi to fill several panels after Paige asks him what it is. In the last panel, implied to take place hours later with Jason still reciting, she exclaims, "Mother, how is this MY fault?"
    • Another strip had a scene at a nerd camp that Jason and Marcus were attending. When a kid is late for Roll Call, the counselor tells him to do a pushup and recite pi to thirty places.
  • In Monty, when Robotman disappears, he is replaced by an alien human hybrid whose full name is 3.1415..., but his friends call him Mr Pi. Because the name was given to him as an insult he later changes it to Dave.
  • A mostly forgotten character in Peanuts was 5, a kid whose family had numbers instead of names. In one strip where he appeared, Linus asked Charlie Brown what sort of name he'd like if that were the case with everyone:
    Charlie Brown: How about 3.14159?
    Linus: I don't know, Charlie Brown... I have a feeling that every Tom, Dick, and Harry would be called 3.14159!
  • In Pearls Before Swine, Goat tries to recite pi as a pickup line. It doesn't work.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Netrunner collectible card game there exists a card "PI in the 'Face"; its cover art includes a decimal expansion of the number Pi.
    Like so many concepts of Netrunner, this card's design can be traced back to R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk 2.0.2.0. Roleplaying Game. Interestingly, in Cyberpunk, PI in the 'Face is not a defense program for data forts, but an attack program used by Runners to fry a data fort's CPU. [...] If the program makes a successful attack, the CPU will be trapped calculating Pi.
  • One source in the Planescape campaign setting of Dungeons & Dragons mentions the moignos, creatures native to Mechanus (the Plane of Ultimate Law) that are obsessed with finding the finite value of Pi and spend every second of their existence trying to do so.

    Video Games 

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • Some girls on a playground of a school for the gifted play hopscotch, singing, "Cross my heart and hope to die / Here's the digits that make pi / 3.1415926535897932384...".
    • Apu mentions he can recite Pi to 40,000 places as proof of his excellent memory, correctly stating that the last digit is a 1. Homer throws in an obligatory "mmmmm, pi" here.
    • Professor Frink shouts out "Pi is exactly 3!" to silence an audience of rowdy Scientists, apologizing afterward for taking such extreme measures.
  • In the Count Duckula episode "Igor's Busy Day", engaged Americans Scott and Laura stay at Castle Duckula overnight. Scott, a mathematician, reveals that he has memorised pi to 15,000 places; Duckula unwisely asks him about this and he starts demonstrating. Every time the scene cuts back to him for most of the remainder of the episode, he is still reciting. (At the end of the episode, he changes to reciting the largest known prime number, prompting Duckula to wail in despair.)
  • One episode of The Batman involved the Cluemaster, a bitter ex-child genius forcing the people who fixed the game where he lost to play a mock game show. Rules were simple- everyone gets one question, on any topic. They win and he lets them go free if they can ask him a question he doesn't know the answer to. One of them tries asking him the exact value of pi- he dismisses the question as being impossible to answer, but in the name of being a fair sport, he recites the first one hundred digits just to prove he's not weaseling out of it. Batman ruins the scheme by asking him "What is the true identity of the Batman?" Ironically, he is actually ''not'' a fair sport when he fails to answer, attempting to renege on the deal.
  • Reversed in a Pinky and the Brain short on Animaniacs. Brain tells Pinky to ask him any question:
    Pinky: All right, what is Pie?
    Brain: The ratio of the circumference a circle to its diameter having a value of eight decimal places of 3.14159265. But ask me something difficult, Pinky.
  • Futurama:
    • One episode mentions the last digit of Pi as a game show question. The joke, of course, is that unless our understanding of mathematics is proven wrong within the next thousand years, there is no last digit of pi.
    • There is a Πth Avenue in New New York and ΠKEA stores.
    • In a special feature of the first Futurama movie, there is a math lecture and one of the topics is about pi. The lecturer asks the audience (that is, the Futurama staff which is chock full of math PhDs) how many digits of pi they know. Eventually, Matt Groening starts rattling off the correct digits...then some nonsense digits before ending with "333...and then just a whole bunch of 3's!"
  • "Donald In Mathmagic Land" has a circular bird who recites digits of pi. And gets them wrong.
  • In The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Jimmy stops his Nanobots' second reign of terror by tricking them into deciphering the value of Pi. After a stressful read-through of all the digits, they seize-up and overload on "five". He got the idea from seeing his Bumbling Dad with a lot of pie.

    Real Life 
  • Daniel Tammet, an Asperger's savant, holds the current European record of reciting 22,514 digits from memory. He describes the experience in his autobiography, Born on a Blue Day.
  • Richard Feynman stated that he wanted to memorize the first 761 digits of pi because at that point, there is a sequence of six 9's so he could recite the numbers to there, then go "999999...and so on." "That point" was named in his honor afterwards. Douglas Hofstadter told the same anecdote. This may just be a genius thing.

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alternative title(s): A Mouthful Of Pi
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