15 Pi Day Math Problems to Solve


Happy Pi Day! For decades, math lovers have been honoring this crucial irrational constant on March 14 (or 3/14, the first three digits of the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter) every year. The U.S. House of Representatives even passed a non-binding resolution in 2009 to recognize the date. Join the celebration by solving (or at least puzzling over) these problems from a varied collection of pi enthusiasts.


Blue-tinted stars in galaxy.

Pi is a vital number for NASA engineers, who use it to calculate everything from trajectories of spacecraft to densities of space objects. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, located in Pasadena, California, has celebrated Pi Day for a few years with a Pi in the Sky challenge, which gives non rocket engineers a chance to solve the problems they solve every day. The following problems are from Pi in the Sky 3 (and you can find more thorough solutions and tips there). JPL has brand-new problems for this year's event, Pi in the Sky 5.


Saturn's moon, Titan.
This undated NASA handout shows Saturn's moon, Titan, in ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths. The Cassini spacecraft took the image while on its mission to gather information on Saturn, its rings, atmosphere and moons. The different colors represent various atmospheric content on Titan.
NASA, Getty Images

Given that Saturn's moon Titan has a radius of 2575 kilometers, which is covered by a 600-kilometer atmosphere, what percentage of the moon's volume is atmospheric haze? Also, if scientists hope to create a global map of Titan's surface, what is the surface area that a future spacecraft would have to map?


[Answer: 47 percent; 83,322,891 square kilometers]


NASA's Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope took this picture June 26, 2003 of Mars.
NASA's Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope took this picture June 26, 2003 of Mars.
NASA, Getty Images

Given that Mars has a polar diameter of 6752 kilometers, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter comes as close to the planet as 255 kilometers at the south pole and 320 kilometers at the north pole, how far does MRO travel in one orbit? (JPL advises, "MRO's orbit is near enough to circular that the formulas for circles can be used.")


[Answer: 23,018 km]


Mercury is seen in silhouette, lower left of image, as it transits across the face of the sun.
In this handout provided by NASA, the planet Mercury is seen in silhouette, lower left of image, as it transits across the face of the sun on May 9, 2016 as viewed from Boyertown, Pennsylvania. Mercury passes between Earth and the sun only about 13 times a century, with the previous transit taking place in 2006.
NASA/Bill Ingalls, Getty Images

If 1360.8 w/m^2 of solar energy reaches the top of Earth's atmosphere, how many fewer watts reach Earth when Mercury (diameter = 12 seconds) transits the Sun (diameter = 1909 seconds)?


[Answer: 0.05 w/m^2]


Pizza on wooden table

People often celebrate Pi Day by eating pie, but what is considered a "pie" is subjective. Pizza Hut considers its main offerings pies, and got into the spirit of Pi Day in 2016 by asking their customers to solve several math problems from English mathematician and Princeton professor John Conway, with promises of free pizza for winners for 3.14 years. Below are two of his fiendishly tricky problems. Unfortunately, even if you solve them, your chance at free pizza is long gone.


Floating blue numbers

I'm thinking of a 10-digit integer whose digits are all distinct. It happens that the number formed by the first n of them is divisible by n for each n from 1 to 10. What is my number?


[Answer: 3,816,547,290]


Old door

Our school's puzzle club meets in one of the classrooms every Friday after school.

Last Friday, one of the members said, "I've hidden a list of numbers in this envelope that add up to the number of this room." A girl said, "That's obviously not enough information to determine the number of the room. If you told us the number of numbers in the envelope and their product, would that be enough to work them all out?"

He (after scribbling for some time): "No." She (after scribbling for some more time): "Well, at least I've worked out their product."

What is the number of the school room we meet in?


[Answer: Room #12 (The numbers in the envelope are either: 6222 or 4431, which both add up to 12 and the product is 48.)]


Blackboard with math and science equations on it

Po-Shen Loh coached the U.S. Mathematical Olympiad team to victory in 2015 and 2016. The back-to-back win was particularly impressive considering Team USA had not won the International Mathematical Olympiad (or IMO) in 21 years. When not coaching, Loh is an associate math professor at Carnegie Mellon University. His website, Expii, challenges readers weekly with a large range of problems. Expii has celebrated Pi Day for several years now—this year it published a video that uses an actual pie to help us visualize pi better—and the following problems are from its past challenges.


Pi on blackboard

Pi has long been noted as one of the most useful mathematical constants. Yet, due to the fact that it is an irrational number, it can never be expressed exactly as a fraction, and its decimal representation never ends. We have come to estimate π often, and all of these have been used as approximations to π in the past. Which is the closest one?

A) 3
B) 3.14
C) 22/7
D) 4
E) Square root of 10


[Answer: C]


Yellow rotary phone.

When Expii's founding team registered the organization in the United States, they needed to select a telephone number. As math enthusiasts, they claimed pi in the new 844 toll-free area code. What is Expii's seven-digit telephone number? (Excluding the area code.)


[Answer: 314-1593; in case you forget to round, you get their FAX number!]


Metal pentagon

The number pi is defined to be the ratio circumference/diameter for any circle. We also all know that the area of a circle is pir^2. Is it a sheer coincidence that they are both the same pi, even though one concerns the circumference and one concerns the area? No!

Let's do it for a regular pentagon. It turns out that for the appropriate definition of the "diameter" of a regular pentagon, if we define the number theta to be the ratio of the perimeter/diameter of any regular pentagon, then its area is always thetar^2, where r is half of the diameter. For this to be true, what should be the "diameter" of a regular pentagon?

A) The distance between the farthest corners of the pentagon.
B) The diameter of the largest circle that fits inside the pentagon.
C) The diameter of the smallest circle that fits around the pentagon.
D) The distance from the base to the opposite corner of the pentagon.
E) Other, not easy to describe.
F) It's a trick question.


[Answer: B]


Globe on chalkboard

"Expii" brings to mind a number of nice words like "experience," "explore," "explain," "expand," "express," and more. The truth behind the name, however, is based on the most beautiful equation in mathematics:

e^pii + 1 = 0

What is (-1)^-i/pi?

Round your answer to the nearest thousandth.


[Answer: Euler's number, also known as e, or 2.718 (rounded off)]


Calculator and blocks that read

The Mathematical Association of America was founded in 1915 to promote and celebrate all things mathematical. It has thousands of members, including mathematicians, math educators, and math enthusiasts, and of course they always celebrate Pi Day. The first two problems are by Lafayette College professor Gary Gordon, while the following four have been sprung on the 300,000+ middle and high school students who participate in the association's annual American Mathematics Competitions. Top scorers in these competitions will sometimes go on to compete on the MAA-sponsored Team USA at the IMO.


Thumb flipping a coin.

Alice and Bob each have a coin. Suppose Alice flips hers 1000 times, and Bob flips his 999 times. What is the probability that the number of heads Alice flips will be greater than the number Bob flips?


[Answer: 50 percent. Alice must have either more heads or more tails than Bob (since she has one additional flip), but not both. These two possibilities are symmetric, so each has a 50 percent probability.]


Wheel of gouda

You are given a cube of cheese (or tofu, for our vegan readers) and a sharp knife. What is the largest number of pieces one may decompose the cube using n straight cuts? You may not rearrange the pieces between cuts!


[Answer: ((n^3)+5n+6)/6). The trick is that the sequence starts 1, 2, 4, 8, 15, so stopping before the fourth cut will give the wrong impression.]


Socks hanging on a line

Ralph went to the store and bought 12 pairs of socks for a total of $24. Some of the socks he bought cost $1 a pair, some $3 a pair, and some $4 a pair. If he bought at least one pair of each kind, how many pairs of $1 socks did Ralph buy?

A) 4
B) 5
C) 6
D) 7
E) 8


[Answer: D]


Blue and red marbles.

In a bag of marbles, 3/5 of the marbles are blue, and the rest are red. If the number of red marbles is doubled, and the number of blue marbles stays the same, what fraction of the marbles will be red?

A) 2/5
B) 3/7
C) 4/7
D) 3/5
E) 4/5


[Answer: C]


Tops of soda cans.

If one can holds 12 fluid ounces of soda, what's the minimum number of cans required to provide a gallon (128 ounces) of soda?


[Answer: 11 (you can't have a fraction of a can)]


Feet on a pink rug

How many square yards of carpet are required to cover a rectangular floor that is 12 feet long and 9 feet wide?

A) 12
B) 36
C) 108
D) 324
E) 972


[Answer: A]

Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images
The World's Best Scrunchies Are From Zurich. Ruth Bader Ginsburg Says So.
Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images
Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images

The scrunchie is back in fashion, but for some, the hair accessory never went away. That includes Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court justice and pop culture heavyweight long known for her lacy collars and fancy jabots.

Ginsburg's longtime scrunchie look has gone underappreciated for years, but now, The Wall Street Journal reports (as we saw in The Hollywood Reporter) that her collection of the grandiose hair accessory is growing almost as large as her stockpile of trademark collars.

Where does a Supreme Court justice get her scrunchies, you ask? As you might expect, Justice Ginsburg doesn't run down to Claire's or Urban Outfitters for her hair ties. RBG fans trying to copy her look will need to grab their passports and buy a plane ticket to do so.

"My best scrunchies come from Zurich," she told The Wall Street Journal, no doubt sending a certain type of fashion-loving law student off to research flight prices to Switzerland. "Next best, London," she decreed, "and third best, Rome." (Do we think the justice pays $195 for her luxury scrunchies?)

Ginsburg—whose other trademark accessories include a purse-sized copy of the Constitution, which she carries everywhere—may not be single-handedly bringing back the '90s fashion trend, but she's certainly a great argument for the fluffy fabric hair ties being the perfect professional look. If it's good enough for the Supreme Court and visits to Congress, it's definitely good enough for the cubicle.

[h/t The Hollywood Reporter]

Fictional Place Names Are Popping Up On Road Signs in Didcot, England

Driving along the highway in Didcot, England, you may notice something strange: the road signs point the way to places like Neverland and Middle-earth.

The names of these and other fictional locales from literature were seamlessly added to road signs by an artist/prankster using Transport Medium, the official font of British road signs.

After some sleuthing, BBC News found the man responsible, who spoke to the outlet on the condition of anonymity. He told the BBC that he's been orchestrating "creative interventions" all over England for about 20 years under different pseudonyms, and that this project was a reaction to Didcot being labeled "the most normal town in England" in 2017, which rubbed him the wrong way. "To me there's nowhere that's normal, there's no such thing, but I thought I'd have a go at changing people's perceptions of Didcot," he said of the town, which he describes as a "fun" and "funky" place.

Oxfordshire County Council isn't laughing; it told the BBC that although the signs were "on the surface amusing," they were "vandalism" and potentially dangerous, since it would be hard for a driver who spotted one not to do a double take while their eyes were supposed to be on the road. Even so, thanks to routine council matters, the signs are safe—at least for now—as the Council says that it is prioritizing fixing potholes at the moment.

Jackie Billington, Didcot's mayor, recognizes that the signs have an upside. "If you speak to the majority of people in Didcot they're of the same opinion: it's put Didcot on the map again," he told BBC News. "Hopefully they'll be up for a couple of weeks."

There are five altered signs in total. If you fancy a visit to the Emerald City, you're pointed toward Sutton Courtenay. Narnia neighbors a power station. And Gotham City is on the same route as Oxford and Newbury (and not, apparently, in New Jersey, as DC Comics would have you believe). If you want to go see the signs for yourself before they disappear, you'll find them along the A4130 to Wallingford.

See the signs here and in the video below.

[h/t BBC News]


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