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Legend holds that thousands of years ago, a sage in the ancient orient was
asked to transport a pane of glass. The pane was to be used in the royal palace
as the first glass window for the king and queen. In those days, panes of glass
were a prized commodity, especially one as perfectly made as this one for it was
perfectly square. So, as you can imagine, the transporting of the glass was an
awesome responsibility. To protect the glass, the sage first wrapped it with the
finest silk in the land to protect it from being scratched. He then wrapped the
package with leather that was strong to protect the glass yet soft enough as to
not break the glass. inally, the sage wrapped the entire package in a thick layer
of can!as. This, he thought, would protect the pane of glass from all danger.
"fter days of tra!el, the sage came to the hardest part of his #ourney, a rocky
mountain. He ascended the mount, carefully selecting each step so as not to
accidentally trip and possibly break the glass. $hen at the top, after successfully
e!ading many potential pitfalls, he could see his destination in the !alley below%%
the royal palace. He realized his #ourney was nearly o!er. &nfortunately, while
peering off into the distance, he didn't see the tiniest of pebbles, no bigger than
his little toe, on the ground before him. (efore he knew it, he was tumbling down
the hill along with the glass) $hen he e!entually got himself under control, he
immediately opened the package containing the glass. irst he unwrapped the
can!as, then the leather, and finally the silk. To his amazement, the pane had not
shattered into a million pieces. Instead, it had broken into se!en pieces. There
was one square, one parallelogram and fi!e triangles.
The sage tried to fit the pieces back together in the shape of the original square.
"t first he made a rectangle. *e+t he came up with a parallelogram. inally, after
many attempts, he was able to fit the pieces into a square. He realized the infinite
amount of combinations and interesting shapes that could be made by arranging
the pieces. $ith this re!elation, the sage wrapped the pieces back up as in the
original package and continued his trek. &pon arri!ing at the royal palace, the
sage presented the package to the king, but not as a simple pane of glass.
Instead, the sage proceeded to tell of the story of his trek using the pieces of
broken glass to illustrate his ad!entures. The king was amazed at the shapes,
and he and the people of his kingdom quickly embraced them. "nd so the art of
tangrams was born)
"s interesting as this story may be, it is unfortunately total fiction. The actual
origin of tangrams is unknown. Howe!er, it is known that tangrams was a popular
recreation in ,hina near the start of the nineteenth century. This was followed by
a craze in "merica, -urope, and "sia where it was one of the most popular
games of the nineteenth century.
The earliest recorded reference to tangrams was in ./.0 in a ,hinese book. The
book was most likely written during the reign of -mperor ,hia ,hing 1.234%./567
when tangrams was at its height of popularity in ,hina. The word tangram was
first introduced officially by $ebster8s 9ictionary in ./4:. Howe!er, the e+act
origin is unknown, but many plausible e+planations e+ist. The most widely
accepted can be found in current dictionaries. It is speculated that the word
tangram is deri!ed from the combination of Tang from the T'ang 9ynasty and the
suffi+ gram. "nother possible e+planation is that it may ha!e been deri!ed from
the now obsolete word trangram meaning puzzle. inally, some consideration
can be gi!en to it being deri!ed from Tanka, people of southern ,hina and Hong
;ong, who were known for e+porting goods. In addition, it is known that the
Tanka also pro!ided food, entertainment and labor for sailors. <eter =an *ote, in
his introduction to The Eighth Book of Tan, Part I supplies more detail to the
The most entertaining e+planation of the origin of the game of tangrams is by
Sam Loyd, the author of the abo!e mentioned book. In this book, he offers not
only an origin to tangrams but uses tangrams to offer a theory on creation itself.
>b!iously, this is a spoof, but it is well worth reading for those interested in