Materials: Wood.
Category: Figures.
Number of pieces: 7
Difficulty: Easy.



Tangram is an antique Chinese puzzle that consists in making forms with all the pieces given. The figures must use all of the pieces without overlapping them. The 7 pieces called Tans, which form a square, are the following:

  • 5 triangles in different sizes
  • 1 square
  • 1 rhomboid parallelogram 

There are several versions about the origin of the word 'Tangram'. One of the most accepted tells that the word was invented by an English man by joining the Cantonese word 'tang' that means 'Chinese' and the Latin word 'gram' that means 'written' or 'graphic'. Another version tells that the origin of the puzzle dates back to between 618 and 907, the period when China was ruled by the Tang Dinasty. therefore the name.

It is very probable that Tangram was created from the Yanjitu furniture set during the Song Dinasty. According to the Chinese record, this furniture was originally formed by a set of 6 rectangular tables. Then a triangular table was added and the tables could be arranged in order to form a big square table. Later there was another variation during the Ming Dinasty, and then it turned into a game.

Tans are usually kept forming a square.

A leyend says that a servant of a Chinese emperor was carrying a really expensive and breakable ceramic mosaic. The servant tripped over and the mosaic tore up. The desperate servant tried to reassemble the mosaic into a square shape, but he couldn't. However, he realized he could make many other figures using the pieces.

It isn't certain who invented the puzzle nor when, as the first Chinese publications where the game appears date back to the 18th century, when the puzzle was already largely known in several countries. In China, Tangram was very popular and considered a game for women and children.

Since the 18th century several translations where published in America and Europe that explained the rules of Tangram. Tha game was called 'the Chinese jigsaw puzzle' and it became so popular that it was played by children and adults, common people and celebrities from the world of science and arts. Napoleon Bonaparte turned into an expert in Tangram since his exile in Saint Helena island.

Regarding the number of figures that can be made using Tangram, most of the European books copied the original Chinese figures, just several hundreds. By 1900 new figures had been invented and the number was approximately 900. Currently about 16,000 different figures can be made using Tangram.

Nowadays Tangram isn't just used for entertainment, it is also used in psychology, design, phylosophy and specially pedagogy. In the field of math teaching, Tangram is used in order to introduce concepts of plane geometry, and to promote the development of children's psychomotor and intellectual abilities as it allows to join playfully materials handling and abstract ideas formation.


Wikipedia contributors. Tangram [online]. Wikipedia, The free encyclopedia, 2007 [date of query: September 9, 2007]. Available at <http://es.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Tangram&oldid=11191513> [in Spanish].