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How to Celebrate Pi Day in Oxford

Mid-March brings many notable events, including Saint Patrick’s Day, the Ides of March, midterm examinations, Spring Break and Oxford’s notorious Green Beer Day. The most American of all mid-March celebrations is Pi Day on March 14.

You may not have heard of Pi Day here in Oxford and at Miami University, but it’s a big deal elsewhere in the United States. In case you haven’t figured out why Pi Day is observed on March 14, the holiday honors the first three digits of the Greek letter Pi (3.14), when it is used to measure the circumference or area of a circle. A special moment during Pi Day celebrations occurs at 1:59 p.m., in honor of the first six digits of Pi (3.14159).

I’ve never gotten mathematicians at Miami excited about Pi Day, but it’s a big deal at Rochester Institute of Technology School of Mathematical Science, where my nephew teaches, as well as with economists and IT personnel at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, where I work part-time.

Pi Day features exciting competitions, such as who can accurately state the most digits in Pi. The highlight in most places is the baking, judging and consumption of pies. Pie may be spelled differently than Pi, but they are pronounced the same.

A fruit pie is round, but this time of year, with local fruit not yet in season, British-inspired meat pies can be made with local ingredients. Shepherd’s Pie, a regular in our household, is usually prepared in a rectangular pan, but a circular one works just as well for Pi Day.

Cook ground meat in oil with minced garlic, onions and mushrooms. Several local farmers have ground meat at MOON Co-op Market and the Oxford Farmers Market, and the other ingredients are also available now from local farmers. Drain the fat and add some tomato sauce (not as much as for spaghetti, several locally made brands are available). 

Meanwhile, peel and quarter several potatoes (local Yukon Gold are available). Place them in a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce to medium and cook until the potatoes are done. Drain the water, add milk and a pat of butter and mash until smooth.

Place the meat mixture in the bottom of a round pan and cover with the mashed potatoes. Score the potato top with a fork and sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 350 degrees for just a few minutes until the top is brown but not burned.

Although it has nothing to do with local food or Pi Day, I do want to mention another use of π that I encountered recently. Former Miami President Jim Garland recently published a novel called Pocket Dog. One of the characters in the novel – a popular music star – is named QTπ.

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Why is Pi Day a distinctively American holiday? After all, Pi is a Greek letter, and calculating the area and circumference of a circle is universal. According to Wikipedia, the United States is one of a small handful of countries that write the month before the day. 

We’ll be with Scottish friends on Pi Day, but it’s not meaningful to them, because in the United Kingdom — as in nearly all countries of the world — March 14 is written 14.3 not 3.14.

Jim Rubenstein is Professor Emeritus of Geography. At Miami, he was Chair of the Department of Geography and Adviser for the Urban & Regional Planning major. He now writes human geography textbooks and consults on the auto industry at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. In Oxford, he is Treasurer of the Board of Directors of MOON Co-op Market.