Easy as pi

Not many numbers can claim their own holiday. Yet math lovers and educators nationwide celebrate the elusive —and seemingly infinite — pi, better known as 3.14, every year on March 14.

For the past five years, the mathematics department at C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air has gone a step beyond just recognizing the day.

Students are encouraged to memorize as many decimals of pi as they can for extra credit and a shot at the grand prize: a gift certificate to Regal Cinemas and — you guessed it — a pie.

This year, Jenna Booth, a senior from Bel Air, broke the school's record by reciting 1,000 digits of the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Booth has held the record each of her four years of high school. Not bad for a 17-year-old getting ready for college.

According to Booth's math teacher, Karen Sigwart, second place went to Hannah Palmer, who memorized 277 digits.

"I'm a competitive person," Booth said.

That's really how it all started. Four years ago, her freshman year, Booth's math teacher informed the class about the upcoming Pi Day contest, a mere three days away. For every 20 digits someone recited, they would receive one extra credit point.

The previous year a student memorized 250 digits, Booth said, and she intended to beat that record.

Her father, Bert Booth, encouraged her to go even farther — 260 digits, in case a fellow student had the same idea.

They didn't stop there, though.

When all was said and done, Booth had memorized and perfectly recited 400 digits, a new school record.

"I wanted to win," she said. After that, she knew this was something she had to do every year.

Her sophomore and junior year, she raised the ante with 800 digits of pi. For her senior year, she wanted to go out with a bang and get an even 1,000.

She looked up the digits on a website and then set them up so there were 50 rows of 10 numbers each.

"It was just row after row after row," Booth remembered. Because she knew the digits from previous years, the first 400 were easily reviewed and memorized in 20 minutes when she began practicing a few weeks ago. "It took more time to do digits 401 to 800."

For the last 200 numbers, she began practicing on Sunday and had it down by Wednesday morning, the day of the big competition.

She said she doesn't have a strategy. No mnemonic devices or a beat behind the numbers.

"It's just straight memorizing," she said. "Just certain things stick out in my head."

What does help her get the order correctly is memorizing the digits in the rows of 10, seeing the pattern, or "personality," as she calls it, in the numbers.

"After a while, things just pop out in your brain," she said. "You can just see it as a whole."

This year, it took Booth five to eight minutes to recite the 1,000 without messing up or losing her place.

She hopes her skill will be a nice highlight on her college applications and help in her planned major: biomedical engineering.

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