THE BLUE LIGHTS flashed, the music kicked in and the chant began: “Three – one – four – one – five…”
It wasn’t a techno nightclub show or a cult meeting; it was the Exploratorium’s annual celebration of pi, also known as 3.1415, on Sunday, 3/14. The San Francisco science museum began the event in 1988 and held it online this year due to COVID-19.
For those who don’t remember high school math class, pi represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, and the number goes on apparently forever.
Pi is an irrational number, and Sunday’s event mirrored this fact, featuring avant-garde musical performances, a panel discussion — and a pie in the face.
“Welcome to Pi Day,” Exploratorium Program Developer Samuel Sharkland greeted over 200 viewers from the U.S., Mexico, France and other countries as the free event — now celebrated internationally — began.
Then the blue lights and chant of the Pi Day Anthem, created by math artist and oxymoron John Sims, began to play. The anthem is part of Sims’ music project, “31415: The Pi Collection.”
“Cute that the anthem was exactly 3.14.15 long,” listener Colleen Gordon remarked in the chat after the anthem ended.
In addition to selections from The Pi Collection, the event included a panel discussion with Exploratorium staff educators Lori Lambertson, Ron Hispchman and Paul Dancstep, all joining from home.
“We used to hit each other with pies on Pi Day,” Dancstep said. “When someone gets hit by a pie, they are not expecting it —”
Bam! A pie, hurled by an unidentified entity, hit Dancstep square in the face, timed perfectly. Unruffled, the panelist continued his participation and the 45-minute event ended on schedule precisely at 2 p.m. with a series of photos of numbers inscribed on different media.
“My favorite part by far was the final parade of digits made of everything from tennis balls to pizza pies,” said Ray Bruman, who watched the event from his Berkeley home.
“That was visually delicious, and the creative input from so many people was a perfect metaphor for the countless digits that make up pi,” Bruman said.
The Exploratorium event has sparked observances all over the world, and in honor of the day, various commercial establishments, including Patxi’s Pizza and participating 7-Elevens, offered deals on pies Sunday.
Mark Wieder and Shauna Haines of Berkeley have attended the real-life Exploratorium event for years.
While he enjoyed the virtual event, “This year I’ll miss circling 3.14 times around the pi shrine as we file past,” Wieder said.
Wieder was referring to a ritual at the event in which participants each carry a digit inscribed on a pie plate representing one of the endless numbers of pi in order. The “pi shrine” is a circle with some of the numbers of pi inscribed on it.
Ira Serkes, a Berkeley Realtor for decades, started throwing Pi Day parties for friends and clients in 2010, inspired by the Exploratorium’s events.
Pi Day “appeals to my love of puns and makes people happy — and everyone loves pizza,” Serkes said.