» Teenage pi reciter who broke the 27-year-old North American record in 2006
There are some kids who enjoy learning 20 or 30 digits of pi to impress their classmates. And then there’s Gaurav Raja. He made headlines in his local Roanoke, Virginia newspapers, and later on the Today Show, for his uncanny ability to learn and recite pi to thousands of digits. It began with a pizza. This was his prize in Dr. Linda Gooding’s math class when, as a freshman, he coasted to victory in a classroom competition on about 250 digits. But his incentives grew over time. The pizza would come easily each year, but Gaurav’s real craving was to land himself in the record books. Or record list, rather, in the form of the austere but authoritative Pi World Ranking List. His sights were set on the all-time North American record, previously set in 1979 at a staggering 10,625 digits. As if this Everest-like ascent wasn’t inspiring enough, his parents promised he’d get an Xbox 360 out of the deal. Let’s look at a timeline of the last few years in Gaurav’s unlikely quest.
Freshman Year (2003-04)
- Pi Day: Recited ~250 digits
Won the school Pi Day contest, and a pizza from Ms. Gooding.
Sophomore Year (2004-05)
- Pi Day: Recited 1,415 digits
- April: Recited 2,990 digits
This time, Dr. Gooding sprung for not one but two large pepperoni pizzas. The April recitation of nearly 3,000 took him 37 minutes.
Junior Year (2005-06)
- Sept.: Knew ~7,000 digits
- Pi Day: Recited 8,784 digits
- June: Recited 10,980 digits
In a steadily-building year, Gaurav reached for the record on Pi Day but fell short. An Xbox 360 was at stake, and though his dad offered to get it for him anyway, Gaurav refused, saying “I wouldn’t play it.” That is, until he breaks the North American record, which he did on June 12. A panel of judges, his family, and some media were there for the one hour, 14 minutes and 28 seconds of pi. Amazing. (The record was broken just six months later, actually! 12,887 digits by Marc Umile.)
Senior Year (2006-07)
Expanded into other quirky memory challenges.
He said he was thinking about branching out into other feats of memory. Having learned all the world capitals two summers before, he decided to memorize every Nobel prize winner in history. Defying these other accomplishments, he says this about learning pi: “Generally I’d say my memory is pretty bad. But this just kind of sticks.”
Gaurav has told TeachPi.org that he is done memorizing pi, and expects only the first 200 digits or so to remain burned into his memory forever. Indeed, shortly after his amazing record-setting streak, he needed room in his brain for other things, as a hard-working college student at Virginia Tech. We wish Gaurav all the best! Thanks for the memorization memories.