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Tangram Puzzles Trivia: 20 Interesting / Fun Facts (History, Mystery,…)

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

wooden tangram in a fish shape
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Tangram puzzles are well known throughout the world. Tangram is a flat puzzle that requires creativity and a lot of thinking to solve. It consists of seven pieces that players need to assemble correctly to create another shape. You have to use all seven tans, and none should overlap. 

Over the years, this game became as famous and intriguing as the Rubik’s Cube. Its simple pieces give you a good brain workout that has many benefits to your mental well-being. 

Since there are few records, it is not clear what their history and origins are. Tangram puzzles have existed for centuries. But today, this ancient game is played in almost every household in the world.

These are 20 Facts about Tangram Puzzles:

1. There are innumerable different tangram puzzle combinations.

Players can arrange tangrams into many other shapes, such as animals, letters, objects, and so on, only by using the seven tans. So, you will not run out of things to do with a tangram puzzle.

2. The seven pieces are called tans.

Almost every puzzle has a name for the pieces. For example, the tangram puzzle’s shapes are referred to as tans. 

3. Its history is unknown.

Many versions tell how the tangram puzzle came about. The supposed Chinese inventor is known as Yang-Cho-Chu-Shih, but the creation date is uncertain. In 1815, Shan-Chiao wrote that the first book about the tangram had been lost but was created approximately in 1795.

4. It’s believed that the game originated in the Orient.

Although no one knows for sure, people believe that the tangram puzzle originated in China. It was initially made of glass and wood and created as a game for women and children. 

5. People believe it originated in China due to its complexity.

Others say it is a Chinese game because, in the past, people would call complicated and complex things “Chinese.” So it wasn’t necessarily because of where it was created.

6. “The Chinese Puzzle Game.”

Pronouncing the word tangram was difficult for some people when the game arrived in the western world, so they would refer to it simply as “the Chinese puzzle.”

7. One legend says it was invented during the Song Dynasty from a pane of glass.

The story is fantastic, even though it is fictional. The legend states that the Song Dynasty contracted a famous glassmaker to create a pane of glass for the palace. The pane was perfectly square, and it was a big responsibility to transport it. 

While traveling with the king’s gift, the artisan stumbled and fell. The fall broke the square into seven perfect shapes: one square, one parallelogram, and five triangles. After getting to the palace, he used the pieces to illustrate his journey. Hence the rules of the game.

8. Ships sailing to America introduced this new game to the Western world.

The tangram puzzle came to America in canton and clipper ships with American captain M. Donnaldson in 1816. When the puzzle arrived in England, it became very famous. It spread out to the rest of Europe through the British book The Fashionable Chinese Puzzle and its solution book, Key. In 1818, sales of the game rocketed in Denmark.

9. Tangrams became popular during World War I.

During World War I, both sides of the trenches played the puzzle. Tangram was known as “The Sphinx” or “The Anchor Puzzle” during this period.

WW1 British soldiers silhouette
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10. The parallelogram is the only tan that needs to be flipped.

Out of the seven pieces, the parallelogram is the only one that can change the entire configuration if flipped. The parallelogram has no reflection symmetry, only rotational symmetry. Players will need to flip it to get its mirror image.

11. Archimedes was the first to create a tangram-like puzzle.

The tangram puzzle derives from rearrangement puzzles from the third century B.C. The Greek mathematician created a tangram-like puzzle called Loculus Archimedius, which contains 14 pieces of different shapes. 

12. Centuries-old books about tangrams.

Since the beginning of the 19th century, many authors have written books about the tangram puzzle. Although no one knows for sure, it is believed that there’s a Japanese book from 1742 about a tangram-like puzzle. 

In 1815, American captain M. Donnaldson brought with him two books by Sang-Hsai-Koi about the tangram puzzle. In 1818, after the game became popular in Denmark, two other books were published, Mandarinen and Det Nye Chinesiske Gaadespil. In 1903, American puzzle inventor Sam Loyd wrote The Eighth Book of Tan, which was responsible for disseminating the game around the globe. 

13. The tangram paradoxes.

A tangram paradox occurs when the same set of pieces generates two different figures, one of which derives from the other. But in reality, the areas in both cases are the same. Among the most famous paradoxes are:

  • Henry Dudeney’s two monks are shaped in two identical ways, one with and one without a foot. The foot is compensated for by a slightly larger body. 
  • Sam Loyd proposed the clipped square in The 8th Book of Tan. One is a perfect square built with seven pieces, and the other has a corner clipped off and still uses the same seven pieces.
  • A Magic Dice Cup is also mentioned in The 8th Book of Tan by Sam Lloyd. He built every cup from the same set of seven geometric shapes. While the first cup is complete, the others have holes of different sizes. One is slightly shorter than the other two. Another is a little wider, and the other is much narrower.

14. The Catholic Church allowed people to play tangram on the sabbath.

As a rule, the Catholic Church forbade its members to play games on the sabbath day, other than puzzles. People could play with the tangram because it is a puzzle.

15. You can make your own tangram.

While the first tangram puzzles were made from wood, glass, ivory, and turtle shell, you can make your own by cutting thin wood, cardboard, or even paper into squares. To form two triangles, draw a diagonal between two corners and another line bisecting one side. Draw a line connecting the halfway points of the edges of the other half. You will have a trapezium and a medium triangle that will need further division. 

Bisect the other piece along the symmetry line to make two short sides, a medium, and a long side. Split one of these into a square and a small triangle. Create another small triangle, and you’ll have a parallelogram as well. Cut each piece carefully. 

16. Other dissection puzzles originated from it.

The German firm FA Richter produced several other puzzles of this type: 

  • Pythagoras, a seven-piece square dissection, 
  • Circle Puzzle, ten pieces arranged in a circle, and 
  • Cross Breaker, a cross dissection that can also be configured as a rectangle.

17. Famous personalities were fans of the tangram.

Tangram fans included Edgar Allen Poe, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Edison, and Napoleon. They were all brilliant people, so that should give you yet another reason to try tangram puzzles.

Cartoon Thomas Edison
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18. An Italian designer created a Tangram-inspired table.

Italian designer Massimo Morozzi designed the Tangram Table. The Tangram Table is a regular tangram puzzle made on a larger scale. As the tans stand on specially designed legs, people can arrange them to take on the same amount of forms as the regular puzzle.

19. An invention of the Gods.

In Sam Loyd’s The Eighth Book of Tan, he claimed that the tangram was invented 4,000 years ago by the God Tan. In actuality, Loyd fabricated the news as part of a practical joke. Yet the publication provided over 600 new shapes, most of them Loyd’s designs.

20. You can use tangrams for different purposes.

Many teachers use tangrams to build children’s STEAM skills, teach them about geometry, math, spatial relationships, and problem-solving. It can also develop logical thinking skills, perceptual reasoning, and creativity.

Last Word

In addition to being educational and socially beneficial, tangrams can also be fun. Family and friends will enjoy the variety, hours of fun, and quality bonding time created by this versatile game. You’re probably excited to share your arsenal of fun facts about the puzzle with others.

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who enjoy sharing their knowledge about their favorite games with others!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.