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Shakuntala Devi Biography

Easy as Pi: Meet the Mental Math Genius Shakuntala Devi

Quick: what day of the week were you born? This question may not seem like a complicated math problem, but it actually is — and numbers guru Shakuntala Devi can calculate it faster than a computer! Google is honoring Shakuntala's birthday in Doodle form today with an animated calculator on its homepage — an appropriate tribute for the mental math savant.

We're offering this arithmetically inclined wonder woman a salute of our own. Get inspired to put down the calculator and crunch some numbers on your own by finding out what makes Shakuntala's math skills so extraordinary.

Magical Math

Her parents were not particularly skilled at math themselves. Both were orthodox Brahmins, which is related to Hinduism. Shakuntala's father joined the circus instead of becoming a temple priest, and Shakuntala starred in a part of his act at young age. By age 6, she was performing live addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, square roots, and cube rites before audiences who marveled at her mathematical talent.


Guinness Book of World Records

In 1980, Shakuntala made history at the Imperial College in London by multiplying two thirteen digit numbers in just 28 seconds. The equation (7,686,369,774,870 x 2,465,099,745,779) was randomly generated. Thousands were in attendance, and it earned her a spot in the 1982 edition of The Guinness Book of World Records.

The Human Computer

Shakuntala's was dubbed the "human computer" because she often beat technology in calculating problems. In 1977, she calculated the 23rd root of a 201-digit number in 50 seconds. The computer took 62 seconds.

Counting the Days

She was particularly gifted at calculating the day of the week of a particular year in the last century. In this video, Shakuntala is seen reciting the correct weekday of random dates almost instantaneously.

An Accomplished Author

Numbers weren't her only forte. Shakuntala published a number of nonmathematical books, including Tradition and Modernity Among Indian Woman and Awaken the Genius In Your Child.

Math as Language

Arthur R. Jensen, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, made this observation after studying Shakuntala's intellect very closely: "For a calculating prodigy such as Devi, the manipulation of numbers is apparently like a native language, whereas for most of us arithmetic calculation is at best like the foreign language we learned in school."

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