Tangram: A World Famous Chinese Puzzle
Tangrams are puzzles consisting of seven simple geometric shapes that can be rearranged into innumerable figures. The puzzle has simple rules: recreate the target figure using all seven pieces without any overlap. However, as most players quickly find out, arranging for the desired figure can be maddeningly difficult. Tangrams are frequently used in elementary schools to teach children about geometry. Problem solvers are not limited to the published figures but can also create new ones.
Less well-known is the fact the puzzle were first invented in China in the late 1700s, where there was already a tradition of puzzles involving rearrangement of pieces. Tangrams were made out of wood, cardboard, ceramic, or ivory. Unlike modern day pieces, many had intricate design patterns carved on each piece. There were even sets of small tables shaped like tangram pieces. Within about twenty years of their invention, the tangrams made their appearances in the West, probably communicated via European and American traders in Guangdong. Chinese books listing problems and solutions were copied and republished in Europe and the U.S. As in China, the game quickly gained popularity among all strata of the population.
In China the games was know as 七巧圖 (qi1 qiao3 tu2) or "seven clever piece picture". It is not known how they came to be known as tangrams, although a frequently mentioned theory is that they came from the concatenation of two words: Tang, the name of the dynasty which Chinese people in the area of Guangdong use to refer to themselves, and gram, meaning "drawn".
Tangrams can provide hours of entertainment with just seven pieces and a book. Magnetic versions are especially useful during long car rides. Or you can play right here.
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