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Pi(es) in a field
June 20, 2008 2:55 PM   Subscribe

A new crop circle formation in Wiltshire depicts the first 10 digits of pi.

Bonus gallery of more crop circles, and one of the less paranormally-inclined documentation sites.
posted by casarkos (96 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Aliens use the exact same notation for a decimal we do, apparently.
posted by Rinku at 2:58 PM on June 20, 2008 [4 favorites]


Mind-boggling that the pranksters are aware of Pi?
posted by brundlefly at 2:59 PM on June 20, 2008 [4 favorites]


i'm amazed they use base 10.
posted by stubby phillips at 3:00 PM on June 20, 2008 [5 favorites]


Gorgeous. Product of bored math students, perhaps? (Oh - England - maths students, then.)
posted by rtha at 3:01 PM on June 20, 2008


This is just ridiculous. It's obviously a sign pointing out where water is. *Pshaw* Pi, whatever!
posted by P.o.B. at 3:01 PM on June 20, 2008


still, it's an amazing and beautiful feat. i love crop circles.
posted by stubby phillips at 3:01 PM on June 20, 2008


oh, the LITTLE dot NEAR the center. that makes sense. not the big one in the center.
posted by stubby phillips at 3:04 PM on June 20, 2008


I, for one, welcome our new aesthetically pleasing overlords.
posted by tkolar at 3:04 PM on June 20, 2008 [14 favorites]


So aliens have finally told us something that we didn't already know?
posted by effbot at 3:04 PM on June 20, 2008


If they can only represent pi out to 10 decimal places then we have no need to fear them.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:06 PM on June 20, 2008 [6 favorites]


Hello Kitty prefers Keroppi circles.
posted by ...possums at 3:08 PM on June 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


the easiest way to do it would be with 13 people and a long rope. with knots

10 of those people wouldn't do much, though.
posted by stubby phillips at 3:09 PM on June 20, 2008


Beautifully done.
posted by everichon at 3:09 PM on June 20, 2008


Hats off to the pranksters, though I wonder fi they resorted to tipping someone off about the Pi thing.
posted by Artw at 3:12 PM on June 20, 2008


also...

ya know how the tracer starts and ends on the same digit?

that's cuz the first 10 digits of pi add up to a multiple of 10.

dark and creepy in here, scoob.
posted by stubby phillips at 3:12 PM on June 20, 2008


For a highly secretive and vastly superior race, aliens sure do leave a lot of shit out in plain sight.
posted by stavrogin at 3:12 PM on June 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Huh. I thought that Jeebovah himself said pi to ten decimal places is 3.0000000000.
posted by maxwelton at 3:14 PM on June 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


(It's a recipe)
posted by Artw at 3:14 PM on June 20, 2008 [5 favorites]


Still sucks for the farmer, though.
posted by Citizen Premier at 3:15 PM on June 20, 2008


All circles depict Pi.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:15 PM on June 20, 2008 [46 favorites]


When I was a little kid my mother told me not to stare into the sun, so once when I was six, I did. At first the brightness was overwhelming, but I had seen that before. I kept looking, forcing myself not to blink, and then the brightness began to dissolve. My pupils shrunk to pinholes and everything came into focus and for a moment I understood.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 3:19 PM on June 20, 2008 [8 favorites]


*munching popcorn*

*using leftover Jiffy-Pop foil to make a hat*
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:22 PM on June 20, 2008


here's how:

1) make 11 equidistant knots in a rope.
2) have one guy hold the first one and the guy with the big shoes hold the last one
3) make a big ass circle.
4) take 10 people and make them stand equidistant in the big circle. name them 0, 1, 2, 3, etc.

5) the guy with the big shoes goes to knot number 2.
6) some confederate takes the last knot and starts at person zero.
7) the guy with the big shoes follows his knot as the confedrate walks clockwise towards person 3
8) when the confederate gets to person 3, the guy with the big shoes turns left and clomps towards the next knot.

just repeat 5-9 for all 10 digits.

it'd probably look better in pseudocode.
posted by stubby phillips at 3:27 PM on June 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


i should point ouit that the confederate doesn't go to person 1 next, he goes to person 4. that's where he is plus one. next he'll go to person 8. that's here plus 4. ya know what? forget numbering the people. it serves no purpose and they're just chumps standing in a field. give 'em colors like mister pink and mister chartreusse...
posted by stubby phillips at 3:31 PM on June 20, 2008


6) some confederate takes the last knot and starts at person zero.

Careful, Confederates and knots are a bad combination.
posted by nasreddin at 3:32 PM on June 20, 2008


Grazing land or crop land? I'm thinking cow pi.
posted by The Bellman at 3:33 PM on June 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


.out.chartreuse.replace sexist pronouns.

trust me, it'll work.
posted by stubby phillips at 3:35 PM on June 20, 2008


All circles depict Pi.

Yeah, but not always with exactly nine decimals.
posted by effbot at 3:36 PM on June 20, 2008


Why did they bother asking astrophysicists? They used the plural, yet they only quoted one, but I assume they asked others.
Seriously. Why not ask anyone else. Did they ask an astrophysicist because that makes us think of space which makes us think of TEH ALIENZ?

Bah.

Anyway, awesome crop circle! Good work person/people who made it!
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 3:36 PM on June 20, 2008


Mind-boggling that the pranksters are aware of Pi?

What, do you think they're just drunken vagrants?
They're obviously meticulous artists, they've done complex things in the past. It's planned out painstakingly on paper then transfered to a field. There's a method to it.
posted by Liquidwolf at 3:39 PM on June 20, 2008


I dunno. I'm pretty sure they're just drunken vagrants.
posted by cortex at 3:40 PM on June 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Keep many glasses of water nearby!
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 3:42 PM on June 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also note that it's a three followed by three groups of three numbers. Early guerilla marketing for this project, perhaps?
posted by effbot at 3:45 PM on June 20, 2008


I don't see how this one is all that complicated compared to some of the others we've seen over the years. I don't know who started the breathless "OMG MOST COMPLICATED EEVAAAR!!" headline but I think I would like to slap them.

Anyway, as IRFH pointed out all circles describe Pi.
posted by loquacious at 3:48 PM on June 20, 2008


Keep banging the rocks together, kids!
posted by loquacious at 3:49 PM on June 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


ahem, I believe it's "the secret is to bang the rocks together, guys"
posted by dolface at 3:53 PM on June 20, 2008


I wish I could figure out how to read the code, because for now I'm just taking their word for it.
posted by Caduceus at 3:55 PM on June 20, 2008


Create a crop circle without mucking about in some pasture in the middle of the night using Photoshop.
posted by Dave Faris at 3:59 PM on June 20, 2008


Caduceus: looks to me like each arc around the center represents one digit, its length is how large that digit is (one tenth of the way around = 1, halfway around = 5, etc). Read from the center out.

There's even a decimal point after the first "3" arc, just like human decimal points! What a coincidence!
posted by ook at 4:04 PM on June 20, 2008


I think knowing 10 digits of pi is closing in on making you a dick.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 4:08 PM on June 20, 2008 [3 favorites]


caduceus,

start near the center. the first arc is 3 tenths of a full circle
the next arc is 1 tenth of a circle
the next arc is 4 tenth of a circle
.
.
.
get it?
posted by stubby phillips at 4:10 PM on June 20, 2008


what flavor pi?
posted by jonmc at 4:10 PM on June 20, 2008


or... what ook said. preview button. etc.
posted by stubby phillips at 4:11 PM on June 20, 2008


*yawn*

Crotch snorkles.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 4:11 PM on June 20, 2008


I think knowing 10 digits of pi is closing in on making you a dick.

Vindication! Despite my snarky and pithy comments that I post here, I'm merely a scientist or mathematician.
posted by Dave Faris at 4:13 PM on June 20, 2008


Still sucks for the farmer, though

They usually get permission.
posted by empath at 4:14 PM on June 20, 2008


Why did they bother asking astrophysicists?

And what fucking astrophysicist doesn't know that crop circles are made by people?
posted by shakespeherian at 4:15 PM on June 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I wish I could figure out how to read the code, because for now I'm just taking their word for it.

This might help.
posted by effbot at 4:17 PM on June 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


i was thinking that you could build a gigantic spiral cog in this way. but instead of integer data, it could contain real valued data. you could put a stylus into the groove and read the data back using the opposite algorithm.

then i missed my record player and my t rex albums.
posted by stubby phillips at 4:19 PM on June 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


ahem, I believe it's "the secret is to bang the rocks together, guys"

Is that a quote from something, or something? I'm just some guy, y'know?
posted by loquacious at 4:20 PM on June 20, 2008


Is that a quote from something, or something?

The message Results 1 - 10 of about 2,090 for "the secret is to bang the rocks together, guys". (0.39 seconds) that just appeared on my screen indicates that it is.

I'm just some guy, y'know?

Is that you, Zaphod?
posted by effbot at 4:28 PM on June 20, 2008


It's so cute with the little decimal point and the bubbly ellipsis at the end that I just want to hug it.
posted by moonmilk at 4:30 PM on June 20, 2008


For anyone who still doubts that these formations are made by board-and-rope "stompers", you can see in the photographs themselves how each wide band of flattened crop is actually composed of many adjacent small bands, each the width of the "stomper". It's a basic principle of the "tool and die" branch of forensic science that a tool will usually leave a mark that matches the shape of the tool that made it. You can see this clearly the "pi" formation in the outermost ring.

Note too, how almost all crop formations have radial symmetry. Basic Euclidean plane geometry in action. Personally I'd like to see a sort of "artist exchange" take place, where English circle makers are transported to the US, given spray paint cans and told to paint Euclidean designs on concrete walls. Similarly, American taggers are brought to Wiltshire, and create garish superimposed letter scripts in maize...

One of my earliest memories of Missoula Montana was asking my father what the strange letters were under the "M" on Mt. Sentinel were. I was told they were Greek letters Sigma and Chi, which stood for a local fraternity. It seems that the frat boys had broadcast fertilizer on the side of the mountain so that the wild grasses would grow greener in the shape of the letters. The amazing thing is, these letters were clearly visible many years later. You can't quite make them out in my photo, but the formations are subtly there, more than 40 years later.

While I don't condone vandalism, using fertilizer instead of simple "stomper boards" enables agrarian art of a much more lasting sort.
posted by Tube at 4:30 PM on June 20, 2008 [4 favorites]


you guys are wrong. this is a very sophisticated crop circle. the algorithm is elegant, the message is clever. it was probably done with hot chocolate and those hats with lights on them. maybe even a bullhorn.
posted by stubby phillips at 4:46 PM on June 20, 2008


Yeah, the article itself is pretty hyperbolic.
posted by casarkos at 4:55 PM on June 20, 2008


So how do you represent zero? An arc of length zero makes it difficult to distinguish powers of ten (e.g. 1,000 vs. 10,000). But an an arc of length 10—a full circle—will mess up the intuitive sorting order.

Aliens: next time do sqrt(3) or the golden ratio.
posted by ryanrs at 5:06 PM on June 20, 2008


ryanrs:
in step 8, the guy with the big shoes moves two knots instead of just one.
posted by stubby phillips at 5:10 PM on June 20, 2008


When I was in college there was this one dude on my Dormitory floor, Joel, who steadfastly believed in just about every kind of paranormal phenomena. From Bigfoot, ESP and Chariots of the Gods to Atlantis, Nessie, and Flying Saucers. This was in the 1980's. Before the internets made all this stuff a rather dull cliche of quirky aesthetics.

Joel went to conferences during breaks. He bought cassette tapes of lectures on Hollow Earth theory. He made meticulous models and dioramas of "The Greys at war with The Reptilians: A Slave Rebellion"— which was the subject of his own rather extensive writings. A controversial theory to say the least.

No matter what you were talking about he could magically transmogrify the conversation into something about the paranormal. Being high about 55% of the time I found this endlessly entertaining. "Joel you are fucking BLOWING MY GOD DAMNED MIND!"

Then around 1983 or '84 this big crop circle thing hit the US Midwest and it was on one of those morning news shows like the Today Show or something. I can't remember exactly. I was watching it with my roommate in the TV lounge while we had our morning bong hits. Suddenly there was this explosion of doors opening and slamming and Joel comes running in yelling "It all makes sense! It all makes sense! It all makes sense!"

About two hours later we see him packing up his AMC Pacer and driving off. I guess to the mid west.

"I guess it really did all make sense." My roommate said.

I moved out of the dorms the next quarter. But I heard Joel became a born again Christian. Yup. It all makes sense.
posted by tkchrist at 5:25 PM on June 20, 2008 [9 favorites]


It would be really fun to get drunk and smash a complicated circle into the lonely fields of England.
posted by plexi at 5:27 PM on June 20, 2008


What, do you think they're just drunken vagrants?
They're obviously meticulous artists, they've done complex things in the past. It's planned out painstakingly on paper then transfered to a field. There's a method to it.


Err... it was not my intention to insult the intelligence of crop circle designers, who are clearly quite skilled. I was simply trying to figure out what the nameless "astrophysicists" found so "mind-boggling" about it.
posted by brundlefly at 6:10 PM on June 20, 2008


Here is a page by a kook that has the original email from the (retired) astronomer.

I looked Michael A. Reed up on ADS, and he does have some publications from the late 70s on optical interferometry, but it's hard to tell if he really believes aliens make crop circles, or if he just has a general interest in the patterns and net.kook websites just happen to be the best places to find them (or some other reason).

As for the Lucy Pringle mentioned at the end of the article, it seems she slammed a few too many stacks. And COME ON, PEOPLE! I shouldn't have been the first to make that joke!
posted by dirigibleman at 6:13 PM on June 20, 2008


People are so silly. Aliens aren't coming to take us away any more than Jesus is. Neither, for that matter, is science.

Face it, folks, we're stuck here! Forever!
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 6:27 PM on June 20, 2008


i don't think anybody here thinks aliens made this crop circle, steve.

personally, i think one very clever guy and twelve of his friends made it.
posted by stubby phillips at 6:34 PM on June 20, 2008


i think one very clever guy and twelve of his friends made it.

What's clever about crop circles or 10 digits of pi?
posted by signal at 6:50 PM on June 20, 2008


Aliens aren't coming to take us away any more than Jesus is.

What about my buddy Jim? I mean, he said he was going to come pick me up after he stopped to get gas.
posted by dirigibleman at 6:51 PM on June 20, 2008


Some people seem to be confused because the story involves circles and pi.

The circle has a digital code in it that could've been used to depict any real number. Since they happened to choose pi, every thread that comments on this article will have a few people saying "Duh! Every circle has pi in it!".

------

If I tore out a blank page from a book, wrote something on it, and told you that it described the golden ratio, you might just say "Duh! Most book page sizes have aspect ratios that approximate the golden ratio!"

However, that would miss the point a bit because I wrote the golden ratio's digits out on the piece of paper.
posted by Jpfed at 6:55 PM on June 20, 2008


I've got all ten of my digits in that pie and can tell you that those aliens are damn fine bakers. Now if they'd only circle around and use fruit next time.
posted by stirfry at 7:03 PM on June 20, 2008


From this bizarre Yahoo! India article:
According to Lucy Pringle, who has spent decades researching crop circles, although some were man-made, it is hard to believe that such an intricate crop circle could have been created by humans.
You know, it's sad enough that people have so little respect for their ancestors that they can't imagine them designing and building the Great Pyramids or Stonehenge, but when you have so little faith in modern-day humans to be able to make patterned circles in a field...

I need a drink.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:09 PM on June 20, 2008


What's mind boggling is the lack of an even rudimentary familiarity with numbers or critical thinking on the journalists' part.
posted by signal at 7:20 PM on June 20, 2008


What's mind boggling is the lack of an even rudimentary familiarity with numbers or critical thinking on the journalists' part.

For example, there was one ONE astrophysicist involved in all of this! ONE!!! The singular noun -- it's not a difficult concept, journalist people!

Oh my god! Where the hell is Jim?!

I don't know anyone named Jim.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:37 PM on June 20, 2008


The crop circles here in Tennessee always look like this.
posted by nola at 7:43 PM on June 20, 2008


The crop circles here in Tennessee always look like this.

funny, i thought they looked more like this
posted by sexyrobot at 8:02 PM on June 20, 2008 [4 favorites]


Some people seem to be confused because the story involves circles and pi.

And some other people seem to be confused because some people both get it and still manage to find it funny.

The people who find a crop circle that digitally encodes Pi to ten digits using elements that encode Pi to its limit amusing are not the people missing the point, Jpfed. Trust me on this one. They're not even missing the tangent.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:18 PM on June 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


Crop circles, bah! Wake me up when someone makes a crop Klein bottle.
posted by storybored at 8:37 PM on June 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


funny, i thought they looked more like this

Nah, thats more of a Georgia crop circle.
posted by nola at 8:56 PM on June 20, 2008


Now this is crop art.
posted by winna at 9:35 PM on June 20, 2008


these formations are made by board-and-rope "stompers"

Whoa! That totally freaks me out. Now I'm trying to picture how the ropes and boards are attached to the bottom of the space ship. It must take an extremely sophisticated arrangement to control the ropes and boards while hovering over the field.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 9:51 PM on June 20, 2008


According to Lucy Pringle, who has spent decades researching crop circles

Anyone check to see if Lucy was heir to the guy whose ashes were buried in a Pringles can? She must have some other source of income if she has spent decades researching crop circles.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 9:56 PM on June 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I am deathly and irrationally afraid of aliens and my sixth grade math teacher made my class memorize 52 digits of pi during one half of the year. This is the most nightmarish of all posts for me.
posted by inconsequentialist at 10:51 PM on June 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


For those who insist that a rope and some knots would suffice to produce this, how do you account for the variable arc length as the sequence progresses?

The design is written as a spiral. With each time around, the distance for that trip will take longer than the time before by a continuously growing vector. The digits are represented as arc degrees (1/10th of a 360 degree rotation = 36 degrees = one digit) so, for example, a 5 would be an arc ending 180 degrees off from its start. The distance from the center keeps increasing like the tracks on a CD (or vinyl record for you old farts) and the length of an arc representing 180 degrees would be longer the further out in the sequence it appears.

In other words, someone would have to plot out ten radials, at 36 degree increments, and then conform the pattern to those points, not take a single rope with ten knots.

(Not saying it's from ET, just saying get your math right. And yes, a zero would be represented by a complete rotation.)
posted by mystyk at 2:22 AM on June 21, 2008


what flavor pi?

It said there was ten digits, so it's obviously Finger Pi.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:27 AM on June 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


For those who insist that a rope and some knots would suffice to produce this, how do you account for the variable arc length as the sequence progresses?

I thought the idea was to use knots to keep track of the distance to the center. To keep track of the arc angles, you'd need either a bunch of people (or other suitable items) along the outermost circle, or just a guy in the center with a big enough protractor. With a slightly more complicated contraption in the center, and enough time, you could easily create this thing on your own.
posted by effbot at 7:02 AM on June 21, 2008


I mean, they managed to make this.
posted by an egg at 8:07 AM on June 21, 2008


"The Mowing-Devil is a quarto pamphlet printed in 1678. It tells the story of a farmer whose field of oats was destroyed by the devil, after the farmer rejected the price asked by a mower and said that the devil could mow it instead."
posted by Abiezer at 8:20 AM on June 21, 2008


mystic,

the chumps standing around the outside of the circle divide it up into 36 degree pie slices.
posted by stubby phillips at 10:04 AM on June 21, 2008


...and a zero would be represented by a zero rotation. the stomper moves two knots outward instead of one.
posted by stubby phillips at 10:06 AM on June 21, 2008


Or the obvious answer for getting the arc lengths right, a person in the center with a $20 orienteering compass, or even a common tool such as a theodolite. Use $20 "family band" radios or cell phones to coordinate between the head of the stomping crew and the guy in the center measuring the angles. And correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't a GPS unit also function as a compass giving a person an accurate way to measure angles in the field?

Or now that I think about it, you need a stake at the center for your rope anyway, you can always measure the angle of the arc by sighting along the rope with your compass. So assuming the first line out from the inner circle is north, you set the direction of travel indicator on the compass to 288 (a bit north of west) line the indicator up with your rope somehow, and stop the arc when the compass needle lines up with north. Granted, sighting along the rope might be tricky, but already, I have an idea for a rig that can be thrown together using scrap wood for doing this. I don't even think you need a complicated contraption in the center to do this solo.

But this all is based on my relative ignorance of the capabilities of handheld GPS systems. If GPS systems work the way I think they should work, a person could just record the center as the reference point, and then just keep an eye on the GPS to get an angle bearing and distance to that reference point. Which again, makes designing the spiral a single-person job.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:41 AM on June 21, 2008


Heck, if I was a math teacher, recreating a circle like this would be an interesting project.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:11 AM on June 21, 2008


You don't have to even worry about representing zero until, like, the 32nd level out.

That's a BIG crop circle.
posted by rokusan at 11:50 AM on June 21, 2008


Crop circles are testimony to the beauty of the human soul.

And war is testimony to....
posted by nevercalm at 12:25 PM on June 21, 2008


Thanks for answering my question, guys. I get it now.
posted by Caduceus at 3:50 PM on June 21, 2008


"What?!"
"Yes, unfortunately authorisation to give them the cure for their cancer, has been pulled."
"Damn. That was a nice one. I guess it'll be plan B then - free energy"
"No - the Pentahedron just ruled that free technology is classified, on the grounds of Galactic Security."
"Galactic Security Theatre is such BS. I guess it just leaves the principles of FTL. Pity, the FTL won't be much use without the energy."
"Err... actually, that's been pulled too."
"WHAT?! Well what the $%@#^ CAN WE GIVE THEM?!"
"Well - here's some good news - I have authorisation to give them the first ten digits of pi!"
"Wait... what?"
"Pi - to ten decimel points."
"You're shitting me?!?"
"No, give them pi. Ten digits."
"I %#*@# hate my job"
posted by -harlequin- at 5:55 PM on June 21, 2008 [10 favorites]


"Pi - to ten decimel points."
"You're shitting me?!?"


sooo...i guess that would make it more of a crap circle, then?
posted by sexyrobot at 2:48 AM on June 22, 2008


I guess, since these guys apparently know Pi, they could have just used a rope/pole/knots, and the width of their stomping board to figure the distance around the circle - (((2*pi*CurrentRadius)/10)*CurrentDigit)/BoardWidth) - And I guess a click counter might make keeping track of how many times you've laid the board down a little easier.

And, personally, if I were using a GPS, I'd just build the whole thing as a path, download it to the GPS and lose the rope alltogether.
posted by Orb2069 at 7:45 PM on June 22, 2008


John Deere has a tractor/harvester system that's controlled by GPS; with something like that, you could just plug in your crop circle and let the machine do all the work.

Heck, you could probably do some pretty subtle stuff if you wanted to, like varying the seed density or fertilizer in order to do shading.

I'm hopeful that some day, in my lifetime, hackers will cause some giant cornfield in Iowa to be fertilized in a way so that, weeks later, a giant goatse.cx appears. That'll give the conspiracy theorists something to chew on.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:03 PM on June 22, 2008


(((2*pi*CurrentRadius)/10)*CurrentDigit)/BoardWidth)

with the rope trick, you don't have to calculate any of that. you could do it without any calculations at all.
posted by stubby phillips at 11:54 AM on June 23, 2008


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