Behind the scenes: Pi Day at Waterloo

Free pie for everyone!

If you’re a Math student at Waterloo, you’ll hear pretty quickly about Pi Day festivities. The main event of the year happens on March 14, starting at 1:59 pm (i.e., 3/14 1:59 . . . get it?).

We celebrate the day with free slices of pie supplied by the Mathematics Society (MathSoc), followed by the pi recitation contest. The pi recitation contest is pretty wild to watch. Contestants recite as many digits of pi as they know by memory, with the winner receiving a gift card worth – you guessed it – $314.15. How many digits do you think the winner recited last year? 20? 50? 100? Think way bigger. The winner in 2018 recited 1,430 digits of pi from memory. I came in last when I entered with “3.14159.” (Just kidding... but I genuinely don’t know any more than that.)

Pi written on a chalk board.

I was curious about how MathSoc runs Pi Day, so I sat down with Rosie, Chair of MathSoc, who answered some of my questions. 

Rosie explained to me that there is a Pi Day celebration every single term, and it’s one of the biggest events of the year for the Faculty of Mathematics.

  • In the winter, it happens on March 14 (3.14), which is actually known as “math day” worldwide.
  • In the fall term, we celebrate with pie on the 314th day of the year, which is November 10 (or November 9 on a leap year).
  • In the summer, we are lucky enough to have two pi-related days. First, July 22 is Pi Approximation Day (because 22/7 is approximately equal to pi!). The other day is Two Pi Day, otherwise known as Tau Day, on June 28 (6/28). On Pi Approximation Day, we eat cake instead of pie, for obvious reasons. 

MathSoc likes to put on these events so that they can meet as many Math students as possible, and so that the faculty can all come together to socialize and promote Math spirit. Rosie estimates that MathSoc hands out about 1,400 slices of pie at one of these events. That is a heck of a lot of pie!

Of those 1,400 slices, there is a healthy mix of fruit and veg available (relax, rhubarb is a vegetable). The go-to pies for MathSoc are apple pie or apple crumble, rhubarb pie, blueberry pie, and more. There is no set-in-stone list of pies to order, but MathSoc tries to order a range of the most widely-liked pies so that there something that everyone can enjoy.

Stack of pies at the University of Waterloo Pi Day celebration

On the day of the event, volunteers show up about an hour before and start cutting pies. They are cut in advance and laid out on a table so that once the event starts, people can just walk up and grab a slice. Volunteers are constantly busy — whether they’re cutting endless slices of pie, or handing it out, there’s always something to do! Although it’s a busy day, Rosie says she always looks forward to volunteering at Pi Day.

It's a fun event to volunteer at because you get to meet so many Math students excited to celebrate.

Every year, there is a good mix of volunteers, including students studying math, staff volunteers, and people from the Math Undergraduate Office. Last year, the associate dean of Mathematics, helped hand out pie. 

Pi Day changes a little bit every year, which is exciting — last year they supplemented the day with math-themed music to listen to when enjoying your cake and pie.

But MathSoc does much more than just put on Pi Day!

There are other events through the year that they run. Rosie’s favourites? Free ice cream in the spring term and weekly board game nights! In addition, they offer services such as printing and photocopying, board game rentals, lockers in the Math buildings, and an online exam bank. If you’re interested in learning more about MathSoc or you might want to volunteer, visit the MathSoc website

A huge thank you goes out to Rosie for the interview!