Lumosity Blog

Mar 14, 2019

3.14 is Pi Day! It would be off-brand to suggest that eating baked goods is the proper way to celebrate the constant that relates the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Instead, we encourage you to train your brain by seeing how many digits of pi you can memorize today. The techniques behind memorizing these digits may also help you remember important numbers and facts. Here are some tips from four-time memory champion, Nelson Dellis, who has memorized a remarkable 10,000 digits of pi.

"Let’s talk about those three dots that follow pi for a moment. I’m here to turn at least one of those dots into an added extra memorized digit. Considering that most people only know 3.14 you’d easily be jumping ahead of the pack by learning and memorizing just one more digit, or if you were so inclined, two or three or even 10,000."

"While pi has been known for almost 4,000 years, people have been memorizing it since who knows when. We do know that there was a time when the number of digits of pi that you could memorize was limited to how many digits of pi were known at the time, since these digits had to be calculated by hand pre-20th century — we’re only talking a relatively tame few hundred digits or so. At that time, you were actually memorizing all the known digits of pi. But in more recent decades, with the aid of computers, thousands and thousands of digits of pi have since been calculated. In 1949, pi was suddenly calculated to 2,000 digits! Compare that to almost 70 years later, where we are now able to calculate unfathomable numbers of digits of pi — in 2010 that number was 2.7 trillion digits!

In the last 25–30 years, memorizing pi has become a challenge that has been well-documented and one that many find interesting enough to take on as a challenge. You can see a collection of national and world pi-reciting records here."

"As of now, the official record stands at 70,030 digits, held by Suresh Kumar Sharma from India. Unofficially, the world record is held by Akira Haraguchi, from Japan, with an astonishing 100,000 digits, but it is yet to be accepted by the Guinness Book of Records.

Not all records are simply based on how many digits can you memorize, though. Some are about how quickly can you recite the digits, or how you recite them. A record I even attempted once was memorizing pi to 10,000 digits and then being tested on random 5-digit chunks, to see how quickly I could find the previous and following 5-digit chunks. Not easy.

But enough about records, how about some techniques to help you become a pi master?"

"Start small with a couple of digits. As I mentioned before, most people only know three-point-one-four. Learning one extra digit isn’t so difficult, right? And, by knowing that one extra digit, you automatically know more than most people. So here goes, that next digit is … drumroll please … 1. So pi is 3-point-1-4-1. Okay, memorizing one digit isn’t very impressive. But learning the following sentence, which in itself is weird and memorable, will get you a respectable eight digits past the decimal point:

How I wish I could recollect pi easily today!

If you notice, the length of each word represents a digit of pi. “How” = 3, “I” = 1, “wish” = 4, etc. You can extend that a bit further to 10 digits with the following sentence instead:

May I have a large container of coffee, cream and sugar?

And if you’re really up for it, you can go for 14:

How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy chapters involving quantum mechanics!

Some crazy pi-lovers have even gone so far as to write in Pilish, the peculiar dialect of English in which the letters in successive words follow the digits of pi. One such work called Not A Wake, contains 10,000 digits of the number!"

"If you want to play in the big leagues of pi-memorization, you’ll have to spend a little time learning a mnemonic number system. Many exist, but one of the easiest and quickest to pick up is the Major System.

The Major System is a system where you take a digit and translate it to a consonant sound. Put a few consonants together and you can create words that make sense by filling in the gaps with “free” vowels. In other words, if you learn said system, and encode pi into words, you essentially just have to then memorize words, which is a lot easier than memorizing numbers.

The system looks as follows: 0 — z, s 1 — t, d 2 — n 3 — m 4 — r 5 — l 6 — j, sh, soft g 7 — k, ch, hard g 8 — f, v 9 — p, b

You may have noticed that some numbers have multiple options — that’s because they are similar consonant sounds grouped together. It allows for more flexibility when creating words. Let’s try an example. If I saw the three digits 502, I might encode that as Lasagna. Remember, we are going by which consonant sounds we hear, not see. The consonant sounds in Lasagna are: L-S-N, which translates to 5–0–2.

To give you a head start, let’s try it on the first few digits of pi. I’ll skip the 3-point, because most people just know that. So let’s start with the decimals:

1–4 = TiRe

1–5 = TaiL

9 — 2 = PiN

6 — 5 = JaiL

3 — 5 = MaiL

8 — 9 = FoB

7 — 9 = CaP

3 — 2 — 3 = M ‘n M

I tend to stick to two digits at a time solely for the reason that it’s easier to think of a short one syllable word with two digits than it is trying to think of words for larger chunks of numbers. But notice the last grouping I went with three (3–2–3). I only did that because M ‘n M is an easy one to remember. In short, you don’t have to stick to a certain number of digits per word, but you also have to consider that when you try to encode larger chunks, coming up with words will be more difficult. 450 isn’t so bad = RaiLS, but 4501 might be tricky."

"Now, what do you do with all these words once you’ve encoded them? You still have to memorize them, and there are a few approaches with the simplest being to form a narrative that weaves all the words into a memorable story.

Perhaps you start by imagining a TIRE rolling down the street which eventually rolls over the TAIL of a dog nearby. The angry dog grabs a PIN and punctures the tire, but unfortunately gets imprisoned in JAIL for doing so … you get the idea. It’s a silly story, but the story preserves the order of words and the words preserve the order of digits. Believe it or not, with a bit of mental elbow grease and practice, you can get pretty quick at this and eventually use it to memorize 1000 digits — or more!"

This March 14th celebrate Pi Day with a slice of pie, but don’t forget to feed your brain with some actual pi, too. Try it for yourself and let us know how far you get here.

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