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The New Tangram Book

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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:

boek
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?

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