A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from November 25, 2010
“May I have a large container of coffee right now?” (Pi mnemonic for 3.141592653)

"Can/May I have a large container of coffee right now” is one of several mnemonic ways to remember the value of Pi (3.141592653). The word “may” has 3 letters, “I” has 1 letter, “have” has 4 letters, and so on.

The line “May I have a large container of coffee” has been cited in print since at least 1959.


Wikipedia: Piphilology
Piphilology comprises the creation and use of mnemonic techniques to remember a span of digits of the mathematical constant Pi. The word is a play on Pi itself and the linguistic field of philology. There are many ways to memorize π, including the use of piems (a portmanteau, formed by combining pi and poem), which are poems that represent π in a way such that the length of each word (in letters) represents a digit. Here is an example of a piem: How I need a drink, alcoholic of course [or, in nature] after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics. Notice how the first word has 3 letters, the second word has 1, the third has 4, the fourth has 1, the fifth has 5, and so on. The Cadaeic Cadenza contains the first 3834 digits of π in this manner. However, piems prove inefficient for large memorizations of pi. Other methods include remembering patterns in the numbers (for instance, the year 1971 appears in the first fifty digits of pi) and the method of loci (used to memorize π to 65,536 digits).

History
Until the 20th century, the number of digits of pi which mathematicians had had the stamina to calculate by hand remained in the hundreds, so that memorization of all known digits at the time was possible. In 1949 a computer was used to calculate π to 2000 places, presenting one of the earliest opportunities for a difficult challenge.

Subsequent computers calculated pi to extraordinary numbers of digits (5 trillion as of August, 2010), and people began memorizing more and more of the output. The world record for the number of digits memorized has exploded since mid-century, and stands at 100,000 as of October 2006. The previous record (83,431) was set by the same person (Akira Haraguchi) on July 2, 2005, and the record previous to that (42,195) was held by Hiroyuki Goto. An institution from Germany provides the details of the “Pi World Ranking”; see the website at http://www.pi-world-ranking-list.com.

Examples in English
The most common mnemonic technique is to memorize a sentence in which the number of letters in each word is equal to the corresponding digit of π. The most famous example has several variations, including:

1. How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics!
2. How I need a drink, alcoholic in nature, after the tough chapters involving quantum mechanics!

Short mnemonics such as these, of course, do not take one very far down π’s infinite road. Rather, they are intended more as amusing doggerel. If even less accuracy suffices, the following examples can be used:

1. How I wish I could recollect pi easily today!
2. Can I have a large container of coffee? Thank you.

This second one gives the value of π as 3.141592653, while the first only brings it to the second five. Indeed, many published piems use truncation instead of one of the several roundings, thereby producing a less accurate result when the first omitted digit is greater than or equal to 5. It is advantageous to use truncation in memorising if the individual intends to study more places later on.

Some Facts about Pi
Here are some Mnemonics to help you remember the digits of pi, which begin 3.1415926535897932384626433832795...

Yes, I know a digit.

May I draw a circle?

Wow, I made a great discovery!

Now I need a verse recalling pi.

How I wish I could enumerate pi easily today.

May I have a large container of coffee right now?

May I have a large container of coffee—sugar and cream?

Sir, I need a large microwave to simmer, broil, and roast.

Hey, I need a large motorboat to rescue women and girls.

How I wish I could recollect pi
Eureka! cried the great inventor.
Christmas pudding, Christmas Pie
Is the problem’s very center.

God! I need a drink—
Alcoholic of course—
After all those lectures
Involving radical equations.

See, I have a rhyme assisting
My feeble brain, its tasks ofttimes resisting.

Google Books
The Scientific American book of mathematical puzzles & diversions
By Martin Gardner
New York, NY: Simon and Schuster
1959
Pg. 103:
Many such memory props have been worked out in various languages to recall pi beyond the usual four decimals. In English they range in length from the anonymous “May I have a large container of coffee?” through Sir James Jeans’s “How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy chapters involving quantum mechanics”...

Google Books
Mathematical Entertainments;
A collection of illuminating puzzles, new and old

By M. H. Greenblatt
New York, NY: Crowell
1965
Pg. 120:
For example, in the sentence, “May I have a large container of coffee?” the number of letters in each word corresponds to the successive integers in the decimal expansion of Pi.

11 October 1966, New Orleans (LA) Times-Picayune, sec. 1, pg. 9, col. 1:
IF YOU’RE one of those students who has trouble remembering what “pi” is, offered the Norco Nimrod, commit this sentence to memory: MAY I HAVE A LARGE CONTAINER OF COFFEE? The number of letters in each word gives you pi—3.1415926.

Google Books
Entertaining Science Experiments with Everyday Objects
By Martin Gardner
New York, NY: Dover Publications
1981
Pg. 45:
Mathematicians sometimes remember pi to seven decimal places by recalling the sentence, “May I have a large container of coffee?” The number of letters in each word stands for a corresponding digit of pi.

14 July 1988, Sacramento (CA) Bee, “SF exhibit explroes the marvels of memory,” pg. SC1:
May I Have a Large Container of Coffee—the number of letters in each word stands for the digits in pi (3.1415926).

Google Books
An Introduction to the History of Mathematics
By Howard Whitley Eves and Jamie H. Eves
Philadelphia, PA: Saunders College Pub.
1990
Pg. 122:
A few years later, in 1914, the following similar mnemonic appeared in the Scientific American Supplement: “See, I have a rhyme assisting my feeble brain, its tasks oft times resisting.” Two other such mnemonics are: “How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics,” and “May I have a large container of coffee?”

Twitter
Dave Richeson
‏@divbyzero
Coffee and pi. Two of my favorite things. Pi mnemonic: may I have a large container of coffee? Cream and sugar?
3:07 PM - 18 Jul 2013

Twitter
Kris solar
‏@Mj23ks
#pi may I have a large container of coffee beans #mnemonic https://instagram.com/p/0Nb5nWvvp6/
8:33 AM - 14 Mar 2015

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • Thursday, November 25, 2010 • Permalink