This deceptively simple appearance of the tangram puzzle belies its rich history and folklore. The seven pieces of the tangram—a square, a parallelogram, and five triangles—make up a larger square. The challenge of the tangram puzzle is to form a specified shape using the seven pieces, which are called tans. In each configuration, the tans must lay flat and touch but not overlap each other.
The tangram dates back thousands of years. According to an ancient Chinese legend, a young man wished to present the emperor with a gift, a beautiful glass tile. But on his trip to the palace, the tile shattered into seven different pieces. The man tried to reconstruct the tile from the pieces but did not succeed. Instead, he decided to create pictures using the pieces of tile, and presented the emperor with the picturs. Thus, the seven-piece puzzle known as the tangram was born.
The earliest evidence of the tangram dates back to the early 19th century, when the tangram puzzles were brought over to American from China on American ships. The tangrams were sometimes constructed from expensive material like ivory and jade.
Since then, tangrams have taken off: Napoleon was said to own one, as was Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll.
An American puzzle inventor, Sam Loyd, even wrote a spoof about the history of the tangram, called The Eighth Book of Tan. The tangram puzzles has become popular with both kids and adults who enjoy the mind-bending challenges, and with mathematicians and geometry fan who study all the possible combinations of the Tangram puzzle pieces.
Don’t forget to check out Monkey Pod Game’s version of the Tangram wooden puzzle!