Teen math whiz celebrates Pi Day by reciting 420 digits from memory
CORONA DEL MAR — Karina Grover wore a lime green T-shirt with the pi symbol, as she sat perched at a table covered in pi swag at the Mathnasium.
There was a pi coloring sheet, pi trivia, lime-green pi water bottles and boxes full of mini key lime pies — all meant to lure students to learn more about the infinite mathematical ratio of 3.14.
“Do you know what pi is?” the 17-year-old Sage Hill student asked Noah Rockstraw, who stopped by after his math lesson to check out the goodies.
“Yes,” he said pointing to the box of mini key lime pies.
Grover smiled and then explained to the eight-year-old why Thursday, March 14, is celebrated as Pi Day.
“It’s Pi Day because this is the third month of the year and the 14th day,” she said. “Pi is 3.14. It’s an infinite number. You get the number when you divide the circumference of a circle by its diameter.”
“That’s really cool,” Noah, a second-grader at Lincoln Elementary School in Corona del Mar, said as Grover showed him a circle diagram.
Grover, of Newport Beach, has spent a lot of time thinking about pi. She’s so into pi, that she holds the pi calculations record at Harbor Day School in Newport Coast where, as a seventh-grader in 2015, she calculated 4,100 digits of pi, a feat that took her 19 minutes.
She is 54th in the world and 11th in the nation for number of pi digits recited by memory, according to the Pi World Ranking List.
Grover’s love of pi led her to create a program to help younger students become equally enamored with math and memorization. Started in 2018, Grover named it, of course, “Easy as Pi.”
This week she’s been celebrating Pi Day and taking her programs to schools and math facilities in Orange County.
On Wednesday, she was the celebrity guest at a special assembly at Harbor Day School. On Thursday morning, she was at El Sol Academy in Santa Ana where she oversaw a pi contest and encouraged students to learn to love math. The school is one of two Santa Ana schools where Grover does community service as part of a Sage Hill program. It was also the first place she implemented her “Easy as Pi” math program.
Thursday afternoon, Grover stopped off at Mathnasium, where students of all ages and levels can get a math tune-up. The Corona Del Mar facility, operated by Jasmin Mortazari, a former Dana Hills High School math teacher, has helped Grover with her math education program.
“We wanted to do a Pi Day event,” Mortazari said. “Having her here, she can explain it — 3.14 is an important number.”
Grover knows that well. As a two-year-old, numbers became her world.
“I’d play memory cards with my father and always win,” she said. “My mother would ask him why he let me win but It happened that I was better at memorization than he was. I would see patterns in the arrangements of numbers.”
When she was in first grade at Harbor Day, she began reciting pi. She did it by memorizing a pattern and rhythm that would turn into a sort of song.
Her father, Dr. Sanjay Grover, encouraged her to enter the Harbor Day pi memory contest. The competition, started by longtime math teacher Meggen Stockstill, has become a “thing” over time and the school pride’s itself on its pi know-how, Grover said.
Grover memorized 60 digits — and that’s how her pi fascination began. She tied for second in that contest.
“It became a thing I wanted to do,” she said. “My dad and I did it together. He’d print out pages of pi and we’d sit for hours and memorize as much as we could.”
But then Grover became better and Dad couldn’t keep up anymore. So, she developed an app called “Learn Pi by Karina.”
“The app would divide each row of 10 into increments of three or four and I’d just memorize them,” she said.
Now, Grover, who plans to go to UCLA and become a dermatologist, hopes other students will realize the power of math.
“In second grade I went through a period where I didn’t like math,” she said. “Somehow through memorizing the digits of pi, it helped me and gave me confidence that I could do it.
“Today, at El Sol, it was so rewarding to see the kids’ faces light up when they accomplished the impossible,” she said. “It was also amazing to see how much the kids looked up to their peers who stood in front of the entire student body and recited. I hope I made it so that they all think math is cool.”
Math may be cool. But for Noah, the best part of his Pi Day experience was eating the key lime pie.
“I’m always hungry and that’s what made me come to the table,” he said, shoveling in his last bites. “I like math a lot. I have a lot of lucky numbers.”