The name “Tangrams” refers to an ancient Chinese puzzle which consists of 7 pieces (originally of wood, more recently they can also be plastic) made into very specific shapes.
From these 7 shapes, a seemingly infinite number of shapes can be created. “Over 6500 different tangram problems have been compiled from 19th century texts alone, and the current number is ever-growing,” according to the Wikipedia entry “Tangrams.”
The trick is taking those same 7 shapes and figuring out how to make them into the shape you want. This is not as easy as it sounds. It can be extremely frustrating when it seems like you are so close, but that last piece just won’t fit! You may want to just push them harder to make them fit. But that doesn’t work either. Working on these puzzles is an exercise of patience. It is amazing how such a simple thing can be so varied and potentially difficult. If you can solve them easily, there are always more difficult shapes-
Tangrams were introduced to the United States from China in 1815. They were popularized by a book, based on books brought from China, The Eighth Book of Tan. The book explained the creation of Tangrams by the God Tan 4,000 years in the past, and the book included 700 possible Tangram shapes (Wikipedia.com).
A brief version of the story:
“A long time ago in China, there lived a man called Tan. Tan’s greatest possession was a fine ceramic tile. One day Tan was carrying his tile to show the emperor. He tripped and the tile fell and broke into seven geometric shapes: two large triangles, a medium size triangle, a square, and a parallelogram. Tan spent the rest of his life trying to put the tile back together again. He was not successful, but he did succeed in creating many different geometric designs.”
That story and more information can be found on this page.
Other shapes of Tangrams that are not as ancient do exist. This one dates from the 1880’s:
There is also a version that starts in the shape of a heart. Still, the classic Chinese Tangrams continue to challenge and mystify. Try some-