Friday, May 15, 2009

A Game Of Tangram

I open my eyes reluctantly this morning as I prepare myself for a Sunday. I wish I sleep for some more time, but sleep eludes me. So after resisting getting up for quite long, I finally leave the bed. I hug laziness which is prevalent in the air. I am at a friend’s place and she is a good host, so she makes tea for me. I quietly sit in the balcony sipping hot tea with halke phulke ParleMonaco and some butter. It’s a kind of day when you don’t have anything to do and you actually feel good about doing nothing! I just keep watching some plants in the balcony and also look at the distant blue sky scattered with cotton-white clouds. Suddenly my friend drops some flat plastic objects in front of me and asks to play Tangram with her. I do not have any idea what a Tangram is, so she explains the game to me.


Wikipedia offers following definition for Tangram:

The Tangram (Chinese: pinyin - literally "seven boards of skill") is a dissection puzzle consisting of seven flat shapes, called tans, which are put together to form shapes. The objective of the puzzle is to form a specific shape (given only in outline or silhouette) using all seven pieces, which may not overlap. 


I take a lot of time to solve the puzzles initially, and they are not very difficult puzzles. But after a while, I sort of catch up with my friend and start putting shapes in less time. Then comes a time when I complete the puzzle before her and I take pride in it. The puzzle I solve is the following one:

So buoyant by my success, I move to next puzzle and this time I decide to solve it in even lesser time. The next shape is seemingly identical to the previous one which gives me more confidence, so I start solving it enthusiastically. I think of keeping the most of the structure of previous solution intact and shuffle a few pieces here and there to get the solution. Look at the below shape:

But as laws of physics would comply to, the gravity pulls you down when you actually start flying. I try hard to put the pieces properly but instead of finishing it fast, I take a lot of time, and am still not able to solve it. I have to look into the answer book for the solution. I think had I started afresh without sticking to previous solution, I would have completed it successfully and much faster. Check the solutions below and notice the difference of approaches between the two:

Then I realize the folly of my thinking. Psychologists call it anchoring. Anchoring is a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily, or "anchor," on one trait or piece of information when making decisions. My relying too heavily on the previous solution brought me in this position. This particular type of anchoring where we depend on the immediate preceding information is called “I am as good as my last trade” in stock market trader’s parlance. But that information can be anything, not necessarily the previous success-producing fact. So what do we rely on when we make decisions? As poor humans devoid of any way to know the future, except maybe astrology and its sister concerns, we have to rely on the past information. We have to start from somewhere, and we generally take help from past successes or experiences. But my request for the friends will be not to rely too much on this bias, and start looking for new ways if one particular mode doesn’t work. It’s better to dismantle the structure sometimes and start from the beginning. Let the new shapes take form in front of your eyes!


  1. Hey wow.. u reminded me of this game.. I had completely forgotten! I had it long back.. but dont know where r the pieces now. Want to play it again. Its such a fun :)

  2. I am now fan of Tangram... It helped me to refresh my 2D imaginations [:)]. Also I like the way they are designed mathematically...