Happy Pi Day! It was another beautiful day in Nome Alaska, and I am celebrating Pi Day by sharing all the ways that Iditarod is associated with pie. I mean pi. Well, actually, I mean both!

Pi is the ratio of the circumference of any circle divided by the diameter of that circle. Pi is an irrational number, meaning that its decimal form never ends, or never repeats.  There are an infinite number of decimal places in pi.  Mathematician William Jones was the first to use the Greek letter pi to describe this number in 1706. Up until computers were invented, only 500 digits of the number had been calculated. Now we know the first six billion digits of pi.Pi is good for building and construction, quantum physics, communications, music theory, medical procedures, air travel, and space flight. I challenge you to discover some interesting uses for pi in dog mushing! 

Most people know pi as 3.14, and a lot of people can recite 3.14159, which is where my ability to recite digits of pi stops. Pi is such an interesting concept and important mathematical one, but it also has great traction in popular culture. Many people celebrate Pi Day on March 14 by eating pie and doing pi-related math calculations in their classrooms. In addition to these connections, I want to share some fun ways you can connect pi to the Iditarod.

Jan Newton reigns over Takotna checkpoint. Photo by Jeff Schultz

One of the checkpoints on the trail, Takotna, is famous for pies. Until her death in 2012, Jan Newton was queen of the pies, and made the Takotna checkpoint a favorite.  Eating a slice of pie at Takotna during the Iditarod is a must. Many mushers opt to take their mandatory 24 hours of rest here because of the warm welcome. Dogs rest in neat lines behind the checkpoint. Takotna is at mile 329. The 329th digit of pi (not counting the whole number three) is 2.  If you want to make a 12” diameter pie, how big around is the pan? (C = 2πr)  Here is an Insider video of Ryan Redington discussing his experience at Takotna this year. 

In Iditarod 2024, eight mushers finished on Pi Day. That was a lot of excitement on Front Street today! The first one was Bailey Vitello at around 1 am, and the last was Anna Hennessy at 5:39pm. In 2023, Ryan Redington won his first Iditarod championship on March 14, Pi Day. Six mushers followed him into the chute on the same day. Have your students look in the race archives for 2024 and 2023 and find those musher names who finished on March 14. The last time a musher won on Pi Day was in 2018, with Joar Ulsom. Previous to that, Mitch Seavey won in 2017 on Pi Day, and then you have to go all the way back to 2001 when Doug Swingley won on March 14.

Another way you could play with pi and the Iditarod is look for mushers who wore bib numbers 3, 14, 15, 9, and so on. Are there any mushers who wore pi bib numbers more than once? How many were veterans, and how many were rookies? Have any mushers completed a number of Iditarods that comprise the first six complete digits of pi? Create posters that celebrate Pi-ditarod bib numbers and/or Pi Day finishers.

Speaking of pi and Iditarod, a wonderful lesson on the Iditarod Edu web site created by Annelise Lecher has the checkpoints of the Iditarod placed around a circle. Students calculate where the checkpoints would be located if the Iditarod route was on this circle. Then they can use the Iditarod checkpoints to practice other calculations, such as the arc of the circle between checkpoints, the angle of radians between checkpoints, or the area of each slice of pie, I mean pi.

Did you know Takotna is not the only place on the Iditarod Trail that serves pie? In Unalakleet for many years, a Pie Social was held to raise money for the local youth so they have a safe place to gather. I went over to grab a slice of pie, and the blueberry one practically melted in my mouth. If you are going to have a Pi-ditarod celebration, you have to include berry pies, which tucks in an acknowledgement of the rich indigenous culture that still thrives in Alaska.  Check out this video by Alaska’s News Source reporter Jordan Rodenberger as he describes the social. 

Cherry pie, just as delicious as it looks! Photo: Iditarod Media

Let me know if you plan to do any of these amazing pi activities, or if you create your own Pi-ditarod activities. Tell me your favorite kind of pie! Email me at emailtheteacher@iditarod.com.