How Dominoes Work

Dominoes are small, rectangular tiles with a line down the center and an identity-bearing surface marked with an arrangement of dots or pips similar to those on dice. Each end of a domino also has a number which varies from zero (or blank) to six. When a domino is played, it must touch a matching end of another tile and its pips must add up to a specific total. The resulting chain of dominos, called a “domino line” or “domino chain”, then gradually collapses in a sequence determined by the rules of the game.

Dominoes can be used for a variety of games. Most are positional games in which players place one domino edge to edge against another, positioning the matching ends so that they form a specified total. The next player then plays a tile to the exposed end of the domino line, and so on. The first player to complete their domino line wins the game.

For a more strategic challenge, players can use their dominos to build 3D structures or create complex curved lines of play. This is often called domino art. These artistic structures can be as simple or elaborate as the players choose to make them, and can range from a single row to multi-layered, interlocking designs.

Hevesh explains that the creation of her mind-blowing domino setups requires the use of a lot of basic engineering principles. She starts with a theme or purpose, and brainstorms images or words she might want to incorporate into her design. She then maps out the overall layout, and calculates how many dominoes are needed for her track or curved line of play.

When a domino is knocked over, much of its potential energy converts to kinetic energy, the energy of motion. This energy is transmitted to the next domino, providing the push it needs to fall. The process continues, one domino at a time, until the last domino falls.

Just like the firing of a nerve impulse in your body, each falling domino creates an instant pulse that travels down the line to the next domino, just as it does for each subsequent domino after the first. This asymmetrical flow of energy is what makes a domino line so exciting to watch.

The first domino set was developed in the 18th century, although it is thought that Chinese “domino” tiles existed as early as the 12th or 13th centuries. By the late 17th century, a number of Western domino games had been developed.

The most popular domino game is block, a variation of solitaire in which each player starts with a fixed number of tiles and places them in front of them on the table. When a player is unable to play a domino, they pass their turn instead of passing out their remaining tiles. The game can be played with as few as two players, but it is most commonly played with seven or more. Other games are played with smaller starting numbers of dominoes. Some are adaptations of card games that were once popular to circumvent religious proscriptions against playing cards.