Effortlessly learn pi to 50 decimal places


I just typed that from memory after only a few minutes of memorizing. Yesterday, all I knew was 3.1415…. I used a slight variant on the major system, a mnemonic system for representing numbers as strings of text, which are more meaningful and therefore much easier to remember. Each digit is mapped to one or more consonant sounds, and vowels (including the semivowels /j/ and /w/ and the voiceless vowel /h/) can be added freely to turn the resulting string of consonants into a meaningful word or phrase. I use the following mappings:

0 = /s/ or /z/ — “s,” “z,” soft “c”
1 = /t/ or /d/ — “t,” “d”
2 = /n/ — “n”
3 = /m/ or /ŋ/ — “m,” “ng”
4 = /r/ — “r”
5 = /l/ — “l”
6 = /tʃ/, /dʒ/, /ʃ/, or /ʒ/ — “ch,” “j,” soft “g,” “sh”
7 = /k/ or /g/ — “k,” hard “c,” hard “g,” “q”
8 = /f/, /v/, /θ/, or /ð/ — “f,” “ph,” “v,” “th”
9 = /p/ or /b/ — “p,” “b”

The numbers from 0 to 3 are easy to remember if you know the ASL alphabet:

Alternatively, you can remember “z for zero” and mentally rotate T, N, and M to get 1, 2, and 3:

For 4 = /r/, just think fourrrrrrr! Or you can remember it as “river” (r + IV + r)

For 5 = /l/, you can think of Roman numerals (L = 50), or you can picture the Russian letter Л turned on its side, looking the top part of a 5:

To remember that 6 stands for the palato-alveolar sounds, think of El Chapulín Colorado. That’s that Mexican guy who dresses as an insect (six legs) with a big “CH” on his chest.

Alternatively, think “j for Jewish” and think of the six-pointed Star of David.

For 7, you can remember that G is the 7th letter of the alphabet, think of the seven days of the weeK, or picture the letter K as being made up of two sevens:

For 8, think of a cursive f, which looks a bit like an 8, or think of a digital-clock 8 as a theta:

As for 9, you can think of it as a mirror-image P or a rotated b.

Once you’ve got that down (and I recommend taking the time to do so; it’s a great system for remembering phone numbers and such), just memorize the following passage:

My dear Taliban,

Shalom! Will the big bomb in my Virage injure Imam Haytham in Kabul? Say no! They fear to be caught shopping by bomb cults.

Recite it in your mind, reading off each consonant as a digit (my = 3, dear = 14, Taliban = 1592, etc.), and you too will be able to rattle off the first 50 decimal places of pi.


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One response to “Effortlessly learn pi to 50 decimal places

  1. Pingback: Remembering dates with the major system | Bugs to fearen babes withall

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