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art by Jonathan Westbrook

A Slice of 3.141592653589793238462643

Oliver Buckram, Ph.D., lives in the Boston area with his two sons. He teaches at Extremely Prestigious University. While he has numerous papers in academic journals, this is his first publication that is unambiguously fictional.
"Three coffees," Zu told the waitress.
"Point vell taken," said Ludolph to Archie, resuming the three-way conversation, "but vere do you see strange patterns?"
"One place they 'appen, guv," said Archie, "is baseball."
"For example?" asked Zu.
"Won 31, Lost 41, is the record the Tampa Bay Rays 'ad in June 2006--'ighly suspicious, ain't it?"
"Five bucks says Archie's point involves Einstein," said Zu, "because today's March 14, Einstein's birthday."
"Nein," said Ludolph, "I vill not vager on zis nonsense."
"Too bad, squire," said Archie, "it's not Einstein but geometry, because the Latin word for ray is radius and 'alf the circumference divided by the radius is 3.141."
"Six coffees," said the waitress, setting down her tray, "five regular and one decaf."
"Five regular and von decaf?" said Ludolph incredulously.
"Three coffees was our order," pointed out Zu.
"Five regular and von decaf?" repeated Ludolph.
"Ate six slices of pie," she snapped, "didn't you?"
"Nein, vee ate seven."
"Seven isn't what I wrote down," she said.
"Nein, it vas seven."
"Three grown men, eating pie all day..." she muttered, slapping the check on the table.
"To continue," said Archie, eying the check uneasily, "there could be patterns 'appening as we speak."
"Three men talking might generate patterns," agreed Zu.
" 'Ate to eat and run, but it's 3:14 and me bus will be 'ere soon," said Archie, causally handing Ludolph the check.
"For instance," said Zu, "perhaps the first word of each sentence spells out something."
"Six dollar tip," said Ludolph, calculating, "zat makes $31.41."
"To check every possibility would take years," said Zu, "and when I got done my beard would be longer than a Hindu's."
"Sikh's," corrected Ludolph.
"For Pete's sake," said Zu, glancing out the window, "is that bus #141 attempting a three-point turn?"
"Three old codgers like us could natter on forever," said Archie, "but #141 is me bus--cheers!"
The End
This story was first published on Friday, April 13th, 2012


I am unable to explain why I wrote this story. Perhaps it is because I grew up in Boston, and can remember the movie theater that once stood in the enigmatically-named Pi Alley. My three characters are figures from the history of pi: Archimedes (287 - 212 BC), Zu Chongzi (429 - 500), and Ludolph Van Ceulen (1540 - 1610). Ludolph's tombstone is engraved with his 35-digit approximation of pi. There's a lot of good stuff I couldn't fit into the 314 words of this story. For example, pi is a transcendental number, and transcendentalism's leading figure is Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was described as "a hopelessly confirmed pie-eater" who ate pie for breakfast. After submitting this piece, I learned that DSF was publishing a math-themed series by the Numbers Quartet, including a story on pi (Stephen Gaskell's The Mind of Allah). I'm amazed the editors decided to publish two unrelated pi-based stories in one year. I can only assume they have a sinister plan to monopolize the lucrative market for pi fiction. Move over steampunk, here comes pi!

- Oliver Buckram

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