The π of cake

Cupcakey maths, no pi
Cupcakey maths, no pi

“I just don’t GET maths.” My simple random statement brought stunned and immediate silence to our little group of PhDs, MScs and the odd BSc. Even the pianist in the corner stopped playing, I think he had a Diploma in Very Hard Sums by the way he looked at me. Honestly, you’d have thought I’d confessed to some heinous crime.

Our post-parkrun chat over a coffee usually covers every subject under the sun, under the broad category of ‘talking bollocks’ so here I was proclaiming that maths was, to me, a dark art. I couldn’t be doing with squiggly lines, brackets and funny-shaped ticks. And what’s with all the Greek letters? What’s wrong with plain old numbers? I asked. Those I can understand. I can even cope with prime numbers and have a useless talent of being able to identify them with the confidence of an idiot savant, which could be a good earner if I ever ran away to the circus.

I’d sat through many a maths lesson at school with a particular talent for transforming dull equations into resplendent multi-coloured artifacts carefully copied into my maths book, which always delighted the teacher, at least I think it was a look of delight. Colouring-in certainly made the time pass slightly quicker than glacial speed. Of course, I hadn’t much of an idea of what they meant, but I satisfied myself that some day this would come in handy. And who needs maths O-level anyway?

My friend the engineer pointed out that if I could bake a cake, that was maths in action as it involved working out what to do next, a bit like project management, but with eggs and flour. That’s maths? I asked. The nodding around the table was more in expectation that I’d rush off and get baking, but it definitely gave me food, or at least cake for thought.

A few days later I was doing very hard sums indeed as I converted a recipe for not many cupcakes to one that would produce 90 for a friend’s birthday. I had to count my fingers and toes several times over to get to the right amount, it was a lot multiplied by even more. I needed ribbon to wrap around circular cake boards and was pondering how much I should buy when one of the pages from my old maths book flashed into my mind. Pie, sorry, pi, rather π. I needed πd, that’s the diameter of the circle multiplied by π, I distinctly remembered I’d made π red and d green, lovely clashing colours crossing the boundaries of the graph paper and drawn at a jaunty angle in my exercise book, that always went down well with the teacher.

I have to confess I impressed even me and had to message Noel immediately to tell him about the maths revelation. “Fantastic,” he said, “well done on finding π on the keyboard. And what value of π did you use? ” I told him I’d used about three as I couldn’t be doing with all the stuff after the decimal point. And anyway, ribbon was sold by the metre. That’s my kind of maths.

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