Tangrams: Torture or Teacher?

2014-0413 tangram-fox

Even after several years of therapy, I still have a poor memory and I fatigue easily.  While these truths may be self-evident, this post is not about memory, fatigue, or the Declaration of Independence. I know the compensation tools to get around memory and fatigue challenges, and I know that I should be doing more. I’ll write about compensation tools on another day.

The topic of the day is Tangrams and why I think they are great even though I cannot solve them. For those of you who are not familiar with Tangrams or have forgotten (intentionally or otherwise) what they are, I present the following three pictures:


The first picture (white) shows seven tiles (called tans) that are used to solve Tangram puzzles. The second picture (black) is a Tangram puzzle that supposedly can be solved by properly arranging the seven white tans. The third picture (light blue) is the solution that proves the seven white tans, when properly placed, can in fact, solve the puzzle.

There are at least 60 Tangram puzzles. In my mind, that equals at least 60 unsolvable puzzles. Why do I think the puzzles are great even though I have not been able to solve them? Is there really a benefit, educational or otherwise, to the torturous puzzles? While solving a puzzle may be emotionally rewarding, trying to solve the puzzle is just as rewarding. Simply trying to solve a puzzle is a cognitive exercise that improves reasoning, spatial rotation, processing speed, memory, attention to detail, imagination, creativity, openness, and patience.

If you would like to watch a video about the relationship between Tangrams and life, click the following link http://www.thetangramway.org/ or paste the link into your internet browser. There is music in the video, so wear a headset if you are in a public area. The printed words in the video disappear very quickly so be prepared to pay attention and click the pause button or replay the video when necessary.

If you do not have easy access to a Tangram set, you can make your own set by cutting the seven tans from any sheet of paper, index card, newspaper, or envelope – be creative. Rather than end the post with questions like I frequently do, I will end the post with three puzzles each of which can be solved with only the seven tans identified above. Have fun!



Click here to read another Beyond Adversity post.

Thanks to the many people who tried to teach me to solve tangrams; Google for providing the images used in this post; and all the people who, directly or indirectly, made it possible to include the pictures and text in this post.


    1. Matt, I have tried to solve many of them. To the best of my knowledge, I have not solved a single one. Nonetheless, I think highly of them because they help some people overcome certain cognitive challenges. There are many free Tangram puzzles online. Try one, it’s free.

  1. I’ve always disliked puzzles (not jigsaw, but 3-D, etc.), and tangrams showed up in my recent neuro/psych eval. It was as if they were in another, very frustrating, language. I do not like them.

    1. Paige, I enjoy solving many puzzles and I believe there is great therapeutic value in solving puzzles, but I am with you — tangrams are too frustrating to be therapeutic. I consider myself lucky if I can fit them in their box after not solving any puzzle. ~ Scott

  2. I love working puzzles but what amazes me most is the extent to which I am unaware of the process of solving them. I’ve been doing the Thinkfun Solchess puzzles for weeks now and I’m getting faster. But if you were to ask me how I approach the problem, I could not begin to tell you. The learning is not below consciousness perhaps but below the level of verbalization.

    1. Susan,

      If you are talking about the solitaire chess puzzles, I completely understand the dilemma. I cannot explain how I solved a puzzle nor can I transfer my puzzle solving-skill to a chess match. I can explain how to solve Sudoku puzzles, but I cannot describe the process of solving Solchess.

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