Tangram: a primer on assembly puzzles

IMG_0002.PNGAmong the large class of Put Together puzzles, there is a subclass of puzzle that can be technically classified as non-interlocking 2D assembly puzzles. Probably the most well-known puzzle of this kind is Tangram, but there are very many different kinds of puzzles, also in the app store. The principle of such puzzles is that pieces have to assembled to form a particular configuration. This is just like jig-saw puzzles, though those are typically interlocking.

The following Tangram implementations are available for the iPhone:

I have not tried them all, but the various Lite versions make it easy to check a few of them out if you are interested. Tangram Puzzle Pro (shown at the top of this page) is a fair implementation, but curiously it does not seem to be possible to reflect the parallelogram! In various other puzzle-games, developers have used the double-tap to reflect a piece (“turn it around”), possibly even using one of nice visual transitions that are available on the iPhone. I have no idea why this Tangram version does not offer this.

Just for the record: Tangram is indeed of Chinese origin, but it is surely not 4,000 years old, as is sometimes believed. That story was invented by Sam Loyd in his 1903 spoof of tangram history The Eighth Book Of Tan. The recent Tangram-book by Jerry Slocum et al. (2003) gives a complete history of this puzzle, which goes roughly like this. The dissection of the square in the seven Tangram-pieces goes back to a mathematical proof and to table design in China. However, the idea to use these pieces for puzzles only arose in China around 1800. Quickly afterwards these puzzles also became available in the west and led to a puzzle craze. The name “Tangram” is not of Chinese origin, but was invented by Thomas Hill in 1848. See the great Jerry Slocum et al. book for all the details!

[Update 31 March 2009] PuzzlePuzzle also includes some Tangram puzzles.

[Update 7 May 2009] The new kid on the block, StarTangram, looks a bit simplistic in comparison to the other offerings.

[Update 31 May 2009] Tangram Deluxe.


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