You might have played around with one of the oldest, if not the first, puzzles known to the world: The tangram puzzle.
The tangram is made up of seven flat geometric shapes and a collection of diagrams. The pieces include one square, two big triangles, two medium triangles and two small triangles and one parallelogram.
The goal of the puzzle is to arrange the seven pieces to match a given diagram. The diagrams are typically silhouettes of animals, objects and human figures in various positions.
According to Chinese scholars, the tangram puzzle was inspired by the “banquet tables” of Huang Bosi (1079 – 1118) from the Northern Song dynasty (960 – 1127), which were a set of different sized rectangular tables that could be arranged in several different configurations for seating guests.
During the early nineteenth century, merchants from America and Europe traveling to Canton returned home with ivory versions of the tangram puzzle, and very quickly the puzzle gained global popularity. The very first known tangram puzzle to be brought back to America was in 1802.
The popularity of tangram puzzles has even inspired sets of condiment dishes moulded to the shapes of the seven tangram pieces. The seven dishes come in an ornate square box complete with a lid and are usually brought out to serve guests sweets during Chinese New Year (Lunar New Year). These dishes come in a great variety of shapes and are painted in unique patterns and images.