Formula for Fun: Fifth Annual Jersey City PIE Day Celebration

Liberty Science Center was the site of seemingly irrational occurrences on Saturday, March 14: A high-level financial executive donned a white lab coat and goofy Einstein wig for a photo that would be posted on social media. An eight-year-old, self-identified “math lover” with no love of poetry composed a Dada-esque haiku. Middle school-aged, self-identified “not science people” got technical and wired game station circuitry. Generation Zers rocked out to Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me with Science” alongside their Gen X parents while everyone chowed down on various delicious pies.

The events illustrated the continued success of the Jersey City PI-E Day Celebration, now in its fifth year. The celebration was started in 2010 by Lissa Welles, an engineer and “math geek,” and Gabby Creery, a self-professed “math phobe” who did not want to “pass [her] math issues to [her] kids.” They combined their shared intense love for pi, the irrational number, and pie, the baked good, into the annual celebratory event that makes math and science accessible and relevant to geeks and phobes alike.

PIE-List-SidebarTammy Walters is the newest member of the PI-E Day organizational team and will play a leading role in planning future celebrations. The three “PI-E Ladies” share a passion for immersing young people in hands-on activities that make math and science fun, and this was evident in the day’s selection of games, contests and challenges. Young attendees played JC Fab Lab’s Raspberry Pi Simon Cooperative Game, a four-person team version of Simon. The game used the Raspberry Pi, a fully functional and extremely compact (2″ by 3″) computer that one middle school-aged young woman found “way cool,” particularly when it was explained how she might construct her own.

Participants in the pie-eating contest had to consume the contents of their pie tins hands-free AND answer a math equation printed on the tin bottom in order to win. “I’m a third grader. Make sure I get a third grade question,” insisted one young man as a volunteer seated and prepped him for competition.

Attendees of all ages were persuaded to compose pi-ku, a haiku on numerical pi (“Three point one four one – five and it’s 9:53 – Quite irrational”) or edible pie (“Crust yields to my bite – sweetness opens my senses – I’m a filled woman”).

The day’s agenda also included a dress-up-like-Einstein photo op, a musical pi-walk, a large-scale pi puzzle, pi-themed face painting and the much-anticipated Blue Ribbon Pie Baking Contest. Thirty four pies were entered in the Blue Ribbon Pie Bake Off sponsored by Progressive Pediatrics; bakers made quick local drives of less than fifteen minutes to drives of one hour to compete for top honors in six categories (see sidebar). Slots on the judging panel were as coveted as the top honors were among the competing bakers. Local civic leaders, members of the LCCS community and an MIT grad with a sweet tooth were among those who rated the pies according to presentation, taste/texture, crust, and creativity.

“I judged the first year, they asked me again, then it became my thing to do,” said Maggie Veca, owner of Skinner’s Loft, and five-time pie judge. “It’s for the community – and who doesn’t love pie?”

Jersey City’s event was one of numerous organized worldwide to celebrate Pi Day annually and this year was historic. The date, 3/14/15, and morning time of 9:26:53, provided the first 10 digits of the infinite mathematical constant—a once-in-a-century occurrence that was also the birth date of Albert Einstein.

Jersey City’s fifth annual PI-E Day was plenty brag-worthy. Approximately 1,000 attended, a continuation of the event drawing more celebrants annually. More than $5,000 was raised that will benefit the Learning Community Charter School (LCCS), the annual recipient of the proceeds from this fundraiser. And the event provided four hours worth of fun and covertly educational family friendly activities on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

“We want to share our passion for pi and pie and maybe encourage a few more people to fall in love with math,” said Gabby Creery, stating a sentiment shared by all three Pi-e Ladies. “I’m pretty sure most people are in love with pie already. Lissa likes to say we lure them in with pie and then we hit them with pi.”

See some of the sights from this year’s festival in our photo gallery below.

© Harmony Media, NJ. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without written permission.

Photos by Steve Gold © Harmony Media, NJ

Nancy Mendez-Booth

is a writer and professor. Her work has appeared in print and online, including KGB Bar Lit Magazine, Philadelphia Stories, Poets & Writers, Mamapedia, and Real Simple. More of her writing can be found on her blog Nancy Mendez-Booth.