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Pi Queen holds throne

Eighth-grader lists 2,009 digits of Pi to end her last year of middle school as a five-time champion of the annual competition.

March 13, 2009|By Alan Blank

Harbor Day School eighth-grader Jamie Searles recited 2,009 digits of the never-ending decimal Pi Friday morning, defending her crown as the school’s Pi Queen and nearly doubling her last year’s stunning total of 1,111 digits.

For five years now, Jamie has held the “Pi Queen” title, and this year’s victory — which seemed to most like a foregone conclusion — was the end of an era at the school.

In her final performance, Jamie, a soft-spoken, bashful local celebrity, sat in a chair with her knees together and her feet apart, hands wedged between her thighs, reciting digits in multiples of five while alternately looking at the floor and gazing off into space.

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Occasionally she would stumble or gulp, even reciting a few incorrect digits a couple of times and drawing gasps from the two women monitoring her progress, but she quickly caught herself and corrected the wrong numbers unprompted.

“I was nervous this year because I didn’t prepare as much as past years,” Jamie said.

She heaved a sigh of relief after reciting the 2,009th number, not realizing how close she came to losing her crown in the final year.

No more than a half hour before Jamie’s performance, a fifth-grader, in his first appearance in the competition, had recited 1,584 digits out of the blue, stunning his teacher.

So while Jamie’s long and celebrated reign at the top of the pack came to an end, a new star was born: Benjamin Most. He started studying in October, memorizing sets of 10 numbers every night, for the event when he found he had a natural aptitude for it.

“Kids that have no interest in math at all are jumping on the bandwagon. Now all the way down to kindergarten we have kids trying to memorize numbers. They’re all inspired by Jamie,” said teacher Meggen Stockstill.

In the seven years that the event has taken place at Harbor Day, it has grown from a small diversion to a schoolwide celebration where all of the kids get involved.

A dozen adults watched Jamie’s last performance, including the school’s head of school, Doug Phelps.

Phelps is captivated by the strategies the kids use to memorize and recite hundreds of digits. The phenomenon seems almost more musical than mathematical, with numbers rolling off students’ tongues in precisely rhythmic patterns, often five at a time.

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