The New Tangram Book

Puzzles have always fascinated me. Language puzzles, escape rooms, logic problems. When I code, I tend to see the coding problem as a puzzle that I need to solve. Especially CSS feels like that lots of the time.

Recently, I dove into my parent’s bookcase and fished up this old jewel:

This 70s book is a collection of German variations on the ancient Chinese puzzle ‘Tangram’. The original and these variations were issued in brick around 1900. The writers of this book have recreated eight of those variations in coloured cardboard and collected numerous problems to recreate with each puzzle.

They even retained the original, poetic names. The Magic Egg is used to create bird-like shapes; the Zoo has lots of animal shapes. The friendly-sounding Gnome is deceptively hard, while the ominous Lightning Rod is easier than it sounds. I’ll let the Patience Assessor speak for itself.

What fascinates me is that these puzzles can be deceptively easy and deceptively hard at the same time. Often, I blunder into a solution, or the solution of one shape is easily deduced from the previous one. But when I try and reproduce that solution later, it can elude me for a frustratingly long time.

Interesting is that the difficulty of this puzzle is tightly knit with the rules and principles of gestalt theory. Especially the more closed forms are easily seen as just an outline, and it can be very hard to try and discern how each puzzle piece needs to be positioned to recreate the black blob on the page.

The reasons I play tangram are threefold. First, there’s just plain fun. Second is relaxation–some of the Eastern zen is retained in this Western edition. Getting angry at a puzzle sure doesn’t help, at least.

And third is inspiration: the way the puzzle pieces interlock make me see interesting shapes and possible logos and patterns to try and use in my work. I should start keeping a sketchbook handy for any interesting shapes I encounter!

But for now, I’ll have to try and have this purple square change into a killer whale. How do I make another parallelogram?


Hostile architecture – how dare you be homeless?

This is an old post once posted elsewhere: brought it here when Twitter user @olebjarkoy took a pic of spikes outside a hotel in Norway, tagged it with #hostile. The hotel replied, on Twitter asking him to remove the hostile tag, as it was negative. Does not take a genius to figure how that went down on Twitter… as a Twitter user pointed out, to this hotel hostile architecture is fine, hostile Twitter posts not.

–Architecture: usually talked about as something potentially beautiful, useful. Better roads, buildings, aScreen Shot 2015-07-25 at 13.00.06ccess. Sometimes it goes wrong, and we get a good laugh: like the story of the architect who insisted a loading ramp for a shopping centre was more than spacious enough: he had tested the drawings with his son’s toy lorry. Some modern architecture, such as park benches can be lauded for their “inventive” shapes. Perhaps comfortable to sit on, for ten minutes.

But then there is hostile architecture. And I do not only mean the spikes embedded in concrete to avoid homeless. If you start looking around, you might find that there are a good deal of architecture designed to keep you moving. And particularly, keep the homeless away.


What a nice idea. Make sure we do not see homeless people, make sure people – anyone – are not comfortable stopping, when we want them moving (and preferably shopping). There are other ways too. “Mosquitoes” – that extremely high pitched noise only young people can hear. Playing music that are annoying for anyone, or particular groups. Or simply making every surface that would normally be flat, a sharp angle.

..and then there is Vancouver, making benches into tiny shelters.. I doff my hat:



More on this:

The Guardian

Vancouver Observer


The Atlantic


My geologic timeline in the magazine Science & Vie!

A long time ago I made a geologic timeline as a (vector) brush in Illustrator, with .ai and .eps files free for anyone to use. The only thing I ask is that if you use it, let me see the result. Making the timeline was incredibly time-consuming and ludicrously fiddly. So, a while ago I got a message on Twitter from scientific journalist @CecileBonneauSV from the French magazine Science & Vie (Hors Série) asking if they could use it. Of course! I cannot say how much I appreciate people asking and letting me know. My French is pretty non-existent, but I get the general idea. Going over and beyond the call of duty, she snailmailed me two copies of the magazine. I am childishly delighted with seeing it printed on paper… And I also deeply appreciate that I have been credited, using my Twitter-handle.

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The kind giants: Historic photos of New Zealand’s Kauri wood bloom

When I was living in New Zealand, one of my favourite walks was just up the road, to one of Auckland’s many natural reserves. You only needed ten or fifteen minutes to get to the top of a small hill. On it, a beautiful Kauri tree solemnly awaited. The sight was impressive, a giant among its normal-sized fellow trees.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many Kauris left in New Zealand, at least compared to last century. Kauri trees were systematically cut down due to their amazing dark, uniform wood… and their impressive size. By 1920, for example, only 0,3% of the original Kauri forests in the North Island remained. You can still find some of the trunks when hiking around the country, they make for huge platforms.

I am a tree hugger, and I mean literally. I like spreading my arms around their gigantic waists and resting my cheek on their cold bark. Kauris are especially good for hugging, because their bark is quite soft, but I would have needed three meter arms to reach across, because these trees are HUGE. One of the biggest Kauris still standing has a girth of 16 metres, and is believed to be between 2000 and 3000 years old.

Kauris are a little difficult to photograph, because they are so big. The chopping of these beautiful giants was extremely sad, but the lengths these cutters had to go to were impressive. The majesty of the Kauri trees still shines through, and with some luck, we are finally beginning to learn how to respect nature and its many wonders.

Here be Dragons

Here be Dragons

The Borgia map (c. 1430)

The Borgia map (c. 1430)

You have probably heard the expression, and most likely associate it with images of old maps covered in drawings of sea serpents and other mythological creatures. But what are exactly those creatures living on the margins, and how did they get there? Pack your bags and jump on board. But aware, though, for Here be Dragons.

Despite its popularity, there are only two references to the phrase, both from the XVI Century. An inscription reading “hic sunt draconesfloats above Asia in the Hunt-Lenox Globe (c. 1510), the oldest one known to show the New World. It‘s thought however that the Hunt-Lenox globe is a cast of a globe engraved on two conjoined halves of ostrich eggs that dates back to around 1504. The ostrich globe, not bigger than a grapefruit and of unknown origins, is labeled in Latin and includes what were considered exotic territories at the time, such as Japan, Brazil and Arabia. Stefaan Missinne, the Austrian collector who last bought it, speculates that the egg could have loose connections to the workshop of Leonardo da Vinci (but most experts dissent).

There is a similar expression observed in many medieval maps, and used for depicting dangerous or unexplored areas. It reads “Here are lions“. Could the dragons just be an early typo? Why did the artist choose this word and not another? Some argue the phrase is simply a reference to Komodo dragons and monitor lizards, not uncommon in Asia. I dissent.

Back when the world seemed so much smaller, mystery filled the darkest corners of the oceans, yes, but also those of existence. The uncharted is out there as much as in here, filled with dragons, serpents or lions. For who doesn’t also have dangerous and unexplored territories within themselves?