Custodian Aims to Recite First 800 Numbers of Pi on 3.14.16

Charlie Asbill

Submitted by Denair Unified School District

WHAT: A special Pi Day rally on 3.14.16 in recognition of the most recognizable mathematical constant in the world. Pi (π) is the ratio of any circle’s circumference to its diameter. Its value is approximately equal to 3.14159265. It is special because its decimal representation never ends or repeats.

WHO: Charlie Asbill, a custodian at Denair Middle School with a unique gift for memorization and a lifelong fascination with numbers. Two years ago, with only a short amount of practice, he was able to accurately recite the first 400 numbers of Pi. This year, he intends to at least double that in front of the entire student body. A large-screen projection of the numbers will be displayed behind Charlie so the audience can follow along. Students will participate. And there will be pie for all.

WHERE: Coyote Center at Denair Middle School. 3701 Lester Road, Denair.

WHEN: On March 14 (of course), from noon to 12:36 p.m.

BACKGROUND: Charlie Asbill, 61, has worked as a custodian in the Denair Unified School District since 2006. He grew up in Modesto and graduated from Downey High School, where he figured out his own way to solve algebraic equations. Charlie never attended college. He worked in his family’s furniture store before becoming a custodian and maintenance supervisor.

How did you get started with Pi Day? Inga Bernard was the math teacher at the middle school in 2013-14. She said they were doing something in her class to celebrate Pi Day. I told her that I’m pretty good with numbers. She said, ‘Why don’t you give it a try?’ So I got a sheet of numbers. I did 390 numbers (10 lines) in her class.

How long have you been practicing this year? Six weeks about 30 minutes a day, but not every day. I might go through the numbers once. If you fight yourself, you’re lost. … I usually practice in the morning when I grind my own coffee. … I don’t write things down. I have to look at the numbers and learn them in groups of four.

How do you do it? When you know how to spell a word, where does it come from? To me this is no different. This is a real long word. I’m going to spell a really long word with numbers.

What else do you do to refine your skill? I’m interested in IQ enhancements. I’ve eaten wild blueberries for the past 13 years; anything that has antioxidant potential. I’m a thief who steals other people’s brains. … I don’t eat pie or any sweets. I haven’t since I was 30.

What is it about numbers that fascinates you? Numbers are easy for me. I used to deliver furniture. When we’d be at the coffee shop, me and the other guy, I’d say, “Watch this. Write down 40 numbers for me, no matter the sequence.” And I’d memorize them and recite them. I knew I had that ability. I have phone numbers memorized of girlfriends from junior high.

What is the longest string of numbers that you’ve recited accurately? I’m at 780 now. I think 819 (21 lines) is doable. … It takes me 7.3 seconds per line, clearly stating them. My goal down the road would be to see what the world record is for speed. Whether or not that puts me in a special category, I don’t know. (The Guiness World Record for the most Pi numbers correctly stated is 70,000, achieved in March 2015 by Rajveer Meena at the VIT University in Vellore, India.)

Do you have any Pi clothing or accessories? Inga Bernard bought me a Pi shirt. I carry a folded sheet of paper in my pocket with the numbers on it.

Have you ever seen the movie “Good Will Hunting,” in which Matt Damon plays a custodian at M.I.T. solves a mathematical equation? I have, but it was many years ago. I wish I had Matt Damon’s looks.

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