Happy Pi Day!

Mar 14, 2023 | Hot Topics

Have I ever told you my butter ruler story? No? Well …

In the US, butter typically comes in sticks wrapped in wax paper. The paper usually has the maker’s logo, the stick’s weight and a magical butter ruler. We (in the US) do things volumetrically, so recipes typically will call for a tablespoon or four of butter, which is incredibly difficult to portion out using a measuring spoon. Manufacturers solve this dilemma by marking off tablespoon increments on the paper wrapper. In my family, that’s the butter ruler.

Many years ago, a little niece and I baked something that required butter. I showed her how to use the butter ruler to determine the correct amount. Then, being us, we measured all sorts of other things with the butter ruler. A book is two butter units thick and several ruler-lengths tall. The measuring spoon was six butter units long. The cat wouldn’t allow us to measure her, though the butter on the paper was attractive. … you get the idea.

We turned something absolutely ordinary into a math exploration.

I can only recite π to 3.1415 but know that it has now been calculated to 22 trillion places. We learned in school that π is used to calculate the circumference of a circle, which is pretty dull. But it’s also a symbol of the infinitely unknowable–we may never know precisely what π is–and that’s very cool.

Enjoy Pi day by making a pie, and if you need butter, please use the handy ruler to measure something else interesting. Preferably with a kid!

(The title image is the first thousand digits of π, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/be/First_thousand_digits_of_pi..jpg)