No-one really knows how tangrams, the puzzle consisting of 7 geometric shapes, were invented. A Chinese book of tangram puzzles dating to 1813 has been found, but, as the Chinese were studying mathematical geometric principles as far back as the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279), it’s likely this is where the tangram gets its roots. One possible origin story tells of a Song Dynasty collection of diagrams for configuring 7 rectangular tables to seat guests at a banquet. Another similar set of diagrams appeared in the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) with triangle- and trapezoid-shaped tables, and the next known written document showing this kind of puzzle (the 1813 book) is the seven set of pieces we know today.
Once tangram sets spread from China to Europe around 1818, they created a sensation and a tangram craze swept Europe and North America. At first, they were known as the “Chinese Puzzle” before the name tangram became popular. No-one really knows the origin of the word tangram but its Chinese name, qiqiao ban, translates as ‘seven boards of skill’.
Make it at home!
There are two ways to play with tangrams – create your own designs or try to fit the shapes onto ready-made patterns.
You will need: the printout (below); glue; coloured cardstock; scissors or a craft knife
- Print the sheet with the tangram shapes on it.
- Glue the printout onto the cardstock. Make sure the whole page is covered in glue. A glue stick should be fine for this, or white school glue.
- Cut out the shapes carefully. The tangram puzzle will be more fun if the lines are cut accurately.
- Start playing! Use your imagination, or use our printouts below.