Oh. My. God.

Tangram:
a Chinese geometric puzzle
consisting of a square cut into seven pieces
that can be arranged to make various other shapes

It sounds innocuous enough, doesn’t it?  I think it’s the “various other shapes” segment of this definition, which sorta implies that this is a free-form “make any shape your little heart desires” exercise.  You know, a do-your-own-thing, everyone-gets-a-ribbon activity.  Let’s try again:  

Tangram:
a Chinese geometric puzzle
made of a square cut into seven pieces
that must be arranged into a specified shape
using all seven pieces

And, based on my experience, I can confidently go further:

Tangram:
a gift received years ago
and parked safely in the basement,
but recently and foolishly retrieved from that basement
to offer a little mental challenge at the breakfast table
in the form of a geometric puzzle
(Do I care which country is responsible?)
(I mean, it’s not like I have any diplomatic recourse, is it?)
made of seven pieces
(Do I care that it started life as a square?)
which must be arranged into specified shapes
(a different one every day)
ranging from the ludicrously easy
to the bloody impossible,
using all seven pieces;
for greater clarity,
the pieces must
cover the entire specified shape,
only the specified shape,
and there must be no pieces left over.

Yeah, that’s more like it.  That captures the room-for-aggravation and room-for-failure aspects.

Now, I often get to a point at which I have pieces left over but no way to insert them.  For example, there’s no way those little triangles are going to fit into that long skinny rectangle.  What was I thinking?

Tangram in process in one failure mode

This is OK, in the sense that I can see I’ve done something wrong: it’s me, not the universe.  But there are other failure modes that do disconcert me. One is where the shape has one empty bit that is the shape of one of the seven pieces, but the one piece I have left over does not match, either by size or by, you know, shape.

4-photo collage of tangram in failure modeThis is bad enough, but the failure mode that really gets me is where the entire shape is filled, but I have a piece left over.   I mean, how can it be?  Maybe this is what they mean when they call it a puzzle.

2-photo collage of tangram puzzle in failure modeI tried this particular shape for two days before I gave up and looked at the solution on the next page.

They heard my gasp in the next county.  Oh. My. God.

The puzzle had been drawn wrongly.  The puzzle-as-posed left out a little triangle near the bottom that showed in the puzzle-as-solved.

4-photo collage shoiwng tangram solutionWell, that would explain it.

And that would also be a good reminder:

When things look impossible,
usually it’s me,
but sometimes it really is the universe.

And no, I don’t have any recourse, diplomatic or otherwise, when I mistake the one for the other.

 

 

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