17th annual Randy Yaw Pi Contest winner nails pi to 708 digits

The mathematics term has an infinite number of digits.

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COLLEGE PLACE - 3.141592653 ... These are just a tiny fraction of the number digits of pi recited Friday by Walla Walla University students in the 17th annual Randy Yaw Pi Contest.

Students Kiffer Green, Bill Lenz, Lindsay Kelstrom, Kendrick Mensink and Steven Williams signed up to recite all the digits of pi they could remember.

In an effort to honor the number, the competition began at 3:14 p.m. Tim Tiffin, a mathematics professor at WWU, welcomed the audience of alumni, students and professors with a reminder of last year's results.

"I would venture to guess that everyone in this room knows all the digits of pi, it's just a matter what order they go in," Tiffin said. This was just the beginning of laughs from the audience. As the competition began, participants made jokes, wowed the crowd, and solicited "oohs," "aahs" and many laughs during their performances.

Lindsay Kelstrom, a senior bioengineering major, has participated in the contest three years running. She won the competition in 2008 with 361 digits, in 2009 with 501 digits, and again this year with 708 digits. She is one of two students who has ever won the contest three years in a row and hopes to do it a fourth time next year.

"I'd like to try to break the record," Kelstrom said. The WWU record is 1,212 digits of pi. Kelstrom said this year she started memorizing a few weeks prior to the competition. To break the record next year, she plans to begin memorizing sooner. Her secret to memorizing the digits is memorizing in groups of five, finding patterns in the numbers and lots of repetition.

Kelstrom first learned of the contest during her first year at WWU while working in the math department helping the professors prepare for the contest. The contest sounded like fun, so she decided to compete. After winning her first year, she decided each year to return to defend her championship.

Each participant had two chances to say the digits of pi and the best performance was counted. The five students were competing for a first-place prize of a pi-shaped coin crafted by Tom Thompson, a mathematics professor at WWU, and a scholarship of $314.15. Second-place prize was $31.41 cash, and third-place prize was $3.14 cash. Each of the three also received a pie.

During the intermission three young people joined in the fun by reciting what digits they knew of pi. Abbey Trunkey, a student at Rogers Adventist School, recited 15 digits of pi. Trunkey doesn't like math, "but this is fun," she said of the competition. She learned the 15 digits in two days by picking it up from her brother, who recited 27 digits.

Brandon Rich, another local student, recited 73 digits of pi during the intermission.

WWU alumnus Randy Yaw sponsors the contest. Yaw graduated with a bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1984 and now owns Pi PC, 50 N. College Ave. When asked what he likes about pi, Yaw said, "It's irrational like I am."

First place went to Kelstrom, with 708 digits, second place went to Lenz, with 41 digits, and third place went to Green, with 36 digits.

Jennifer Jorgenson can be reached at jenniferjorgenson@wwub.com.

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