shards of broken glass on table

Puzzles are games that tickle our brain to be active. They are mainly used as a learning tool that helps students understand complex parts of a subject they are studying. It removes an intimidating barrier to create a warm approach that it’s fun to learn.

Another dissected puzzle will excite you up if you happen to play one. This exciting puzzle is called Tangram.

What is tangram?

If you’re a puzzler, you’ve probably encountered a puzzle game somehow similar to a jigsaw puzzle which is called Tangram.

Tangram is a mind teaser puzzle game to develop various shapes using only seven pieces of polygons. The idea is, you need to create a new pattern using only the given figures provided to you without overlapping each one.

Like a jigsaw puzzle, the aim is to connect each piece to form a specific image. However, the twist is that you can use only seven parts and think of ways on how that piece should be used to create an image.

You’re only given an outline of an image, and then you’ll be the one to figure out how to come up with that image without overlapping each piece.

It may seem easy at first glance, but it’s very tricky once you’ve handled it.

Where did tangram originate from?

As I mentioned before, Tangram is like a distant cousin of a jigsaw puzzle where you need to connect each piece to form an image.

It’s just that this game has only seven pieces, and you’re the one to decide how would the orientation of each piece be, without overlapping each of them, to form the image shown on the box.

You might think that it’s somewhere in Europe as well. But the answer is “no.”

This mind teaser game, Tangram, originated in China. However, various authors, mathematicians, and historians have different versions of its time of origin. The thing is, this game has been here for a long time, but we don’t know “how long” it was.

Are tangrams Chinese?

Since Tangram, or also known as “qi qiao ban,” meaning “seven ingenious pieces.”, was made somewhere in China, we can say that this is an old Chinese puzzle. However, historians are not quite sure where exactly it came from because records about it written in Ch’i chi’iao t’u were already lost for some reason.

Did you know that Tangram was assumed to be an instrument to prove the Pythagorean Theorem?

Chinese mathematicians and other historians said that Tangram was born along with the Pythagorean theorem but, it was not proven until now.

Pythagorean theorem is a geometric mathematical equation to which it is mainly used as a basis in different trigonometric problems. For example, the square of the two right triangles is equal to the square opposite them, known as hypotenuse.

Now, I’m not going to discuss this deeper, for I’m not a mathematician in the first place.

I just wanted you to know that Tangram is somehow related to this theorem one way or the other, even it is not shown in historical texts that we have now.

As you can see, the Pythagorean theorem uses triangles to get their squares.

Similar to the goal of Tangram where you should use those triangular pieces with other shapes to form a large square.

Tangram is not limited to the formation of squares alone. You can also create other shapes depending on how creative your mind is. Just make sure that you connect all pieces altogether without overlapping them.

Why was tangram created?

The main reason why was Tangram was created is unknown. The exact time when it was first made was undefined until the present time. The only thing we know about it was presented in an ancient Chinese book by Chinese scholars.

Nowadays, Tangram is used to help children develop their spatial reasoning, critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and creativity. Moreover, with the use of polygons, they enjoy studying geometry at an early age.

You see, like a jigsaw puzzle, Tangram needs your creative imagination to create other shapes out of it. There, you can create polygon-shaped swans, boats, stars, flowers, and even human figures.

This can build one’s ability to think of other ways to use limited pieces of shapes differently.

What is a tangram story?

The legend behind Tangram’s story is about an old Chinese man who wanted to give the king a precious glass sheet for his window. However, during his journey to the palace, he accidentally broke it. Upon arriving at the king’s palace, he told his story using the shattered glass pieces.

He tried to match each piece altogether to create the glass window again, but he kept on failing. So instead, he was able to make other shapes and images out of it.

This gave him the idea to show what had happened to him using the broken glass.

And because of that, he was terrified that the king would not believe and punish him.

However, the opposite happened. The king was amazed by how the older man could create a visual representation of what had happened to him using only seven shattered glass pieces.

He used each piece in a different orientation and then connecting it to other parts to create a whole image.

This made the king excited, and he wanted to do it himself as well.

Who invented tangram?

The name who invented Tangram is unknown, but historians said it originated in China and spread its popularity across America and Europe. Francis Waln, American Captain M. Donnaldson, and  Friedrich Adolf Richter were the ones who made it famous in the Western World.

Francis Waln was the first person who brought Tangram to Philadelphia in 1802. However, Tangram didn’t come into its spotlight right then and there.

American Captain M. Donnaldson was the one who spent a lot of time figuring things out about tangram puzzles. It was the time when they were on a ship, and he was given a book where various images were present to be formed using only seven pieces of polygons.

From that time on, he decided that such a brain teaser puzzle should also be enjoyed by many.

This led to the beginning of tangram’s popularity in England, known as the “Fashionable Chinese Puzzle.

On the other hand, Friedrich Adolf Richter is a German industrialist who introduced tangrams as “Anchor Puzzles” in Germany.

From then on, the popularity of this game spread like fire. It gained so much attention during World War I as well.

What are the 7 tangram pieces?

Since the origin of the word “tangram” is unknown, I connected all published information about it and connected the dots as to why it’s called such.

I divided the word into two parts, the “tan” and “gram.”

In mathematics, the word “tan” means the size of the opposite side and the adjacent side of a right triangle.

Therefore, I assume it was intentionally used for this puzzle game because it needs to play with the congruency, alignment, and symmetry of right triangles to form shapes.

Meanwhile, the word “gram” is commonly used as a unit of measurement to describe weights, and sometimes it can also be used in food which refers to grains.

We can assume that “gram” in Tangram refers to the grains or number of pieces of polygons used for it.

To combine, the word “tangram” is a dissected puzzle game to create various shapes using a definite number of polygons.

The etymology of tangram presented in this blog post is purely based on the author’s own opinion and understanding of the word. Fact regarding the etymology of the word “tangram” is unknown until now.

Here are the seven commonly used polygons for Tangram:

Right triangleLarge2

What is used to make tangram?

Any flat materials can be used as a tangram, such as glass, wood, tiles, tortoiseshell, plastic, paper, ivory, and many more. As long as the materials can form shapes for Tangram, they would be suitable to be used.

This makes Tangram suitable for all ages because any materials you can think of may be used to create one.

All you need is a cutting tool, ruler, marker, a ton of imagination to create various forms of images you can think of!


We can say that tangrams are somehow an Asian relative of jigsaw puzzles.

You see, jigsaw puzzles are created in Europe while Tangram is made somewhere in China but, even though they’re far from each other, they seem to share the same vibes.

They are both dissected puzzles that aim to be formed as a whole image. The difference is that Tangram can create any images or shapes you can think of, while jigsaw puzzles cannot.

Nevertheless, both games are fun to play with because it stimulates our creative minds to solve them.

How about you? Which among jigsaw puzzles and Tangram do you prefer?

Please share it in the comments below. I would love to know puzzling experiences are!


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