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Rules of the Game
Tangram Chinese Puzzles and Patterns

The rules for creating tangram silhouettes and designs are pretty straight forward.

  1. For the official traditional tangram: Color the sections if desired with crayons or markers. Cut the large square into 7 tans (pieces). Create as many recognizable shapes as you can by rearranging and rotating the tand. Remember, tangram shapes must always lay flat (never bent or folded) and the tans may not overlap.
  2. For the non-traditional, creative and unusual tangrams: Color the sections if desired with crayons or markers. Cut the large shape into the designated pieces. Create as many recognizable shapes as you can by rotating the pieces and using all the tans of that specific puzzle.
  3. Use your tangram silhouette shape to tell a story. Reshape the character as necessary to develop the story line, for example, make your character appear to walk, run or fly.
  4. Let your imagination go and have fun!square tangram sol

Definition of a Tangram Chinese Puzzle

The Tangram Chinese puzzle is a dissection puzzle game. The name "Tangram" was coined in 1848 by Thomas Hill, in the pamphlet "Puzzles to Teach Geometry."

The earliest known book about the Chinese puzzle is dated 1813, but it is generally believed the game is much older than the first publication which took place during the reign of the Jiaqing Emperor of China.

Early pieces of Chinese tangram game sets ranged from simple wooden blocks to intricately decorated and carved pieces out of ivory and jade.

The game quickly became popular in Europe and America and remains popular to this day.

Tangram puzzles remind me of the mosaics of Pompei and stained glass window designs. My parents loved to make mosaic designs to rerurface old tables. I remember them both cautioning me to stand back while they broke various colored glass bottles that they had collected from a fun, scavaging day at the old county dump to use as pieces for the table design. I learned glass is very sharp but the rewards of a beautiful mosaic design might is worth the incidental nick or two.

Whimsical and Creative Tangrams

When I created these whimsical, non-traditional tangrams, I'd print each design, cut the pieces out and place the pieces in individually marked envelopes.

These envelopes traveled with me to work, the doctors, dentists offices, on the commute train. Anytime I found a few idle moments, I'd arrange and rearrange these tans to find as many solutions as possible.

It became a sure-fire conversation stearter. I introduced tangram into hospital and dental waiting rooms, at the office, in break rooms and restaurants. People would often watch as I'd try many different angles. Occasionally someone would suggest a move, or declare that the design looked like an animal or bird, etc.

Make Tangram Felt-Board games

  • Find stiff cardboard pieces, about 12" x 12" or larger. Old record album (LP) covers are about the right size and work great for making felt-board play surfaces which children can use to build their own puzzle solutions
  • Completely cover the square cardboard with a sheet of felt - black, dark blue or green colors provide good contrast to display the puzzle pieces. Affix the felt firmly with glue or tape
  • Trace a collection of the various traditional tangram shapes onto different, brightly colored felt or foam sheets.
    Colors to use:
    • Red
    • Yellow
    • Light Green
    • Light Blue
    • Pink
    • Orange
    • White
  • If making multiple boards, separate or divide the tans to give each felt board tangram the same number of shapes and sizes in the various colors
  • Enjoy!

Bring along as travel games to keep the children entertained with educational fun. Share at family get-to-gethers, day care centers and school.

Provide pencils and pads of plain paper so children can keep a diary and re-draw and record the different shapes. Solutions not provided here as the purpose of the tangram puzzle is to encourage creativity.