Tangram – the seven-piece ingenious puzzle

Tangram on my frig

On a whim I purchased a few 8.5″ x 11″ colored vinyl magnetic sheets to make a few specialized magnetic note holders. Some I made by cutting out various shapes. Others I decorated by affixing stickers to them. There was plenty of the material left. Then I came across Mr. Randy Crawford’s wonderful web site dedicated to tangrams.

This brought back warm memory of that day in childhood when my mother gave me a plastic tangram set and showed me how to form interesting shapes using those colorful pieces. In Chinese, the tangram set is called 七巧板 (qīqiǎobǎn), literally, seven slabs of ingenuity. I’m not sure whether my early experience with the tangram had anything to do with my aptitude for geometry – I loved geometry in my secondary school years. I think it does explain why I’m so fond of solving puzzles. Anyway, if you wish to impress your child’s young mind with the concept of basic geometrical shapes and the spatial relationship among them, why not introduce this puzzle/game to them?

Working with the tangram puzzles helps develop problem-solving skills. If it doesn’t work one way, then you’d try arranging the pieces some other way, until all the seven pieces are used and the resulting figure matches the puzzle provided in silhouette. After you have gained experience with how the pieces fit together, you may be able to spot the solution to some of the puzzles right away. This is not unlike how one deals with one’s problems in life. And a big bonus of solving the tangram puzzles is that a solution always exists, which cannot be said of many real-life problems.

Solution to a tangram puzzle

On this page Mr. Crawford provides a pattern for making your own 4″ x 4″ tangram set. I promptly made two sets out of my magnetic sheets and arranged the pieces on my refrigerator. I know I will be visiting my frig much more often from now on.

Well, Christmas will sneak up on you before you know it. Why not make a colorful tangram for each young and not so young person on your gifting list who might enjoys solving puzzles? These will also work great as stocking stuffers or birthday take-home gifts. Be sure to include an instruction sheet with a few interesting puzzle diagrams to start with. Drop off a couple nicely packaged tangram sets at a toy collection center, and you will feel extra warm in the heart this holiday season. If you are good with woodworking, make your next project a wooden tangram set. If have older children, then ask them to make their own tangram sets out of colored construction paper or paper boards. That will be a great exercise in planning, measuring and drawing as well as cutting accurately.

Cut carefully in straight lines around the polygons so the pieces will fit well together. If you use colored vinyl magnetic sheets, take extra care as boobos will be costly. Assuming no mishaps, you can get four tangram sets by using one 8.5″ x 11″ magnetic sheet. With two different-color 8.5″ x 11″ magnetic sheets, you could make eight two-color tangram sets. With three different-color 8.5″ x 11″ magnetic sheets, you should be able to get 12 tri-color tangram sets. There will also be sufficient material remaining for you to make a few custom magnetic note holders.

As the magnetic tangram pieces only have one colored side, you will need to make two pieces of the parallelogram shape, one the mirror image of the other, because the parallelogram has no reflective symmetry. If you only provide one prallelogram shape, and the puzzle requires you to flip that piece to fit in the slot, then that piece will have the magetic side up, and it won’t stick to your frig or metal file cabinet.

If you don’t feel like making a tangram set yourself, nor wish to spend money on purchasing one, then you and your children could play this game on-line at the NCTM site.

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