Science -- Your Future, Scotland's Future
SCI-FUN Roadshow Exhibits -- Tangrams
SCI-FUN Roadshow Exhibits -- Tangrams
In this exhibit you learn about using different shaped tiles to make shapes.

In a Tangram puzzle you have seven pieces which you can make into various shapes. There are two large triangles, one middle-sized triangle, two small triangles, one square and one parallelogram. The challenge is to make different shapes and pictures, using all seven pieces, without any of them overlapping.

It is unknown when the Tangram puzzle was invented in China, but it first became popular in Europe in the 19th Century. Various Tangram books have been published, showing different shapes to make from the pieces. There are thousands of different possible shapes to make.

Tangram pieces can be made of different things, including wood, paper, metal, glass and pottery. Decorative sets can be bought, but most are made from painted or polished wood.

Tangrams are a type of dissection puzzle. Dissection puzzles consist of a set of pieces that can be tiled together in different ways to make two or more distinct shapes. Dissection puzzles require both logical and creative thinking, in trying to fit the pieces into a known shape, or trying to create a new shape.

The simplest dissection puzzle is the haberdashers puzzle, and has only four pieces that can form both a square and an equilateral triangle. A more complex puzzle is the Ostomachion, which is said to have been invented by Archimedes in Ancient Greece. This has 14 piece that can form two different squares, as well as different animal shapes, like Tangrams.

The word "Tangram" is said to mean "Seven boards of cunning", reflecting the difficulty of Tangram puzzles.

You can download the following two-page PDF document, which shows you how to make your own tangram puzzles, and gives you some shapes to try out, with solutions.

1 In a Tangram puzzle you have ________ pieces.
2 Where was the Tangram puzzle invented?
3 When did Tangrams become popular in Europe?
4 What kind of puzzle are Tangrams?
5 Who invented the Ostomachion puzzle?
6 Why do you think Tangrams have remained popular for so many years?

1 Make a set of Tangram pieces from paper or card. Print out a sheet from the Internet ( and cut it out. Now try to make shapes from the pieces, perhaps the letters of your name, or your favourite animals.
2 One simple dissection puzzle involves cutting up a square so that it makes two smaller equal sized squares. What is the smallest number of pieces you can use to do that? This puzzle was invented by the Ancient Greek philosopher Plato.