The 'Tangram Story'
The tangram (Chinese: 七巧板; pinyin: qī qiǎo bǎn; literally "seven boards of skill") is a dissection puzzle. consistes of seven flat shapes, called tans, which are put together to form shapes. The objective of the puzzle is to form a specific shape (given only an outline or silhouette) using all seven pieces, which may not overlap. It was originally invented in China at some unknown point in history, and then carried over to Europe by trading ships in the early 19th century. It became very popular in Europe for a time then, and then again during World War I. It is one of the most popular dissection puzzles in the world.
The tangram had already been around in China for a long time when it was first brought to America by Captain M. Donnaldson, on his ship, Trader, in 1815. When it docked in Canton, the captain was given a pair of Sang-hsia-k'o's Tangram books from 1815.They were then brought with the ship to Philadelphia, where it docked in February 1816. The first Tangram book to be published in America was based on the pair brought by Donnaldson.
The puzzle was originally popularized by The Eighth Book Of Tan, a fictitious history of Tangram, which claimed that the game was invented 4,000 years prior by a god named Tan. The book included 700 shapes, some of which are impossible to solve.
The puzzle eventually reached England, where it became very fashionable indeed. The craze quickly spread to other European countries. This was mostly due to a pair of British Tangram books, The Fashionable Chinese Puzzle, and the accompanying solution book, Key.Soon, tangram sets were being exported in great number from China, made of various materials, from glass, to wood, to tortoise shell.
Many of these unusual and exquisite tangram sets made their way to Denmark. Danish interest in tangrams skyrocketed around 1818, when two books on the puzzle were published, to much enthusiasm. The first of these was Mandarinen (About the Chinese Game). This was written by a student at Copenhagen University, which was a non-fictional work about the history and popularity of tangrams. The second, Det nye chinesiske Gaadespil (The new Chinese Puzzle Game), consisted of 339 puzzles copied from The 8th Book of Tan, as well as one original.
One contributing factor in the popularity of the game in Europe was that although the Catholic Church forbade many forms of recreation on the sabbath, they made no objection to puzzle games such as the tangram.
Tangrams were first introduced to the German public by industrialist Friedrich Adolf Richter around 1891. The sets were made out of stone or false earthenware, and marketed under the name "The Anchor Puzzle".
More internationally, the First World War saw a great resurgence of interest in Tangrams, on the homefront and trenches of both sides. During this time, it occasionally went under the name of "The Sphinx", an alternate title for the "Anchor Puzzle" sets.
The number is finite, however. Fu Traing Wang and Chuan-Chin Hsiung proved in 1942 that there are only thirteen convex tangram configurations (configurations such that a line segment drawn between any two points on the configuration's edge always pass through the configuration's interior, i.e., configurations with no recesses in the outline).More Tangram Resources:
- Tangram worksheets by I.D.E.A.S.
- "Tangram" by Enrique Zeleny, Wolfram Demonstrations Project
- "New Tangram paradoxes" by Gianni A. Sarcone, Archimedes Laboratory Project
- Online Tangrams Game at PBS Kids
- "Peces Joc de Tangram" Another online game (contains popups)