How Dominoes Work

A domino is a small rectangular block of wood or plastic with a face that is marked by dots resembling the spots on dice. The word is derived from the Latin domina, meaning “little king.” It was first used as a game piece in the 18th century in Italy and France and later came to the United States where it was popular in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Dominoes can be used in a wide variety of games.

There are many different types of domino sets in use all over the world and a great many games that can be played with them. Two of the most popular kinds of games are blocking and scoring. The standard domino set in the United States contains 28 tiles, called dominoes. Larger sets are available for players who want to play longer games.

In positioning games, one player in turn places a domino edge to edge against another so that their exposed ends match. The dominoes may be matched by color, number, or both. A domino with a number on both its top and bottom faces is called a doublet. A domino with a single number on one side and no number on the other is called an unmatched domino.

When a domino is placed upright, it stores potential energy because it’s balanced against the pull of gravity. But a tiny nudge is all it takes to transform the potential energy into the kinetic energy that causes it to fall over and start a chain reaction.

Stephen Morris, a physicist at the University of Toronto, says that when a domino is standing upright, its top is lifting against the pull of gravity. When it falls over, the force of gravity pulls on the rest of the dominoes and they fall over too. The process continues until all the dominoes have fallen.

Lily Hevesh, a professional domino artist who has created elaborate setups for movies, TV shows, and even Katy Perry’s album launch, says that her favorite part of creating an installation is the moment when the whole thing falls into place. “The feeling of seeing the dominoes come together, like they’re telling you they want to play,” she says.

Hevesh begins her installations by making test versions of each section. She films the tests in slow motion to ensure that each element works properly. Then she assembles the sections. She builds the largest 3-D pieces first and then adds flat arrangements. Finally, she creates lines of dominoes that connect all the sections together.

Dominos have been made from a variety of materials over the centuries, including bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother-of-pearl), ivory, and other types of natural stone; metals such as brass and pewter; ceramic clay; and frosted glass and crystal. But polymer dominoes are now by far the most common. This material is economical and durable, and it allows for the creation of a wide range of colors, shapes, and sizes.