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updated: 3/15/2014 2:07 PM

Pi in your face; Geneva students rattle off digits

Geneva students rattle off hundreds of digits

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•    Fifth-grader Michelle Wang is a study in concentration as she recites the first 550 digits after the decimal point in pi (as in 3.14159) at Mill Creek Elementary School's Pi Day celebration in Geneva on Friday. Her effort shattered a school record.
Laura Stoecker/lstoecker@ dailyherald.com

•    Donah Wang, left, and Anita and Jignesh Shah are proud parents of new Pi record holders Michelle Wang and Yash Shah. Michelle took first place, reciting 550 numbers after the decimal, and Yash took second place with 481.
Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

•    Fifth grader Yash Shah is all smiles after learning he has broken a four-year school record for numbers of digits memorized after the decimal Pi. His record was short-lived, though, as another student broke his record a few minutes later.
Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

OK, just about everyone knows pi, used in describing the circumference of a circle, starts at 3.14.

Maybe a few more know it's carried out to 3.14159. But who can recite the first 10 digits of the endless symbol? The first 50? No one, right?

How about the first 481 digits? Or maybe 550?

That's precisely what two fifth-grade students did Friday at Mill Creek Elementary School's annual Pi Day event in Geneva, twice smashing the school record.

Pi, the Greek letter "π," is the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant -- the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. With the aid of modern technology, Pi has been calculated to more than 1 trillion digits beyond its decimal, but the possible calculations are infinite.

Pi Day is celebrated around the world each year on March 14 -- or 3/14.

For the past six years, fifth graders at Mill Creek compete to see how many digits they can memorize. Ten students qualified to compete in this year's final.

Students often rattled off the numbers in groups of 10. Some stared at the floor or the ceiling; others closed their eyes; some nervously tugged at clothing, while others nonchalantly called out numbers.

Yash Shah, 11, often smiled as he recited the numbers, and when he found out he broke the record of 465 digits -- set by James Warwick in 2010 -- with his 481, a huge grin spread across his face. He even did a discreet double fist pump when he sat down.

"That was sort of my goal in the first place when it started, but luckily I did it. I thought I couldn't do it, but I did it," Yash said.

But his record was short-lived as classmate Michelle Wang, 10, recited 550 digits.

"I didn't really memorize it," she said, "I just found patterns in the number to help me remember it more."

Her thoughts on breaking the just-broken record?

"I didn't really think it was that big of a deal but when everybody else was clapping I saw that they thought it was a big deal."

If that weren't enough, Michelle says she might have done better.

"I was going to try and do 700, but I had to practice for ISAT (testing)."

Michael Dannen, 11, came in third place with 351.

The three students were awarded T-shirts emblazoned with the pi symbol.

But the entire fifth grade class was rewarded with a different kind of pie -- the type served in slices and in 13 varieties.