A Simple Trick for Remembering the First 100 Digits of Pi

Rattling off the first 100 digits of pi may seem like something only the most dedicated mathematicians can do. But with some tips from a memory expert, you could be doing it, too.
No napkins required.
No napkins required. / Jeffrey Coolidge/

People with excellent memories can often seem like they possess an inherent talent—a seemingly magical capacity for recollecting names, fascinating facts, and beyond. But more often than not, the greatest mnemonists (a.k.a. people with excellent recall) are actually just really good at working the system and coming up with tricks to aid their brain in remembering a seemingly never-ending list of things.

In the video below from WIRED, former U.S.A. Memory Champion Joshua Foer illustrates just that, albeit in a pretty mind-boggling way—at least for those of us who might not have his kind of visual brain.

Foer instructs the viewer on how to remember the first 100 digits of pi by constructing a building of the imagination, or what he calls a “memory palace.” The system pairs letters and sounds with numbers, which can then be turned into words (and images).

It sounds confusing, but here’s an example: the first three digits of pi are 141 which correspond in the system to the letters DRD. Those letters can then become a word, which can become an image. In the video, Foer turns them into DRuiD. You then move on to the next three digits to come up with another image, and create a sort of story in your mind that links back to the numbers.

Still confused? Check out the video below for a much clearer explanation. It’s still an incredible feat, but one that seems infinitely more achievable than simply committing a random sequence of numbers to memory.

A version of this story ran in 2015; it has been updated for 2024.