The Magic of Domino


Domino is a game played with a set of small wooden or plastic blocks, each bearing a number of dots in the shape of dice. Each domino is positioned on its edge so that one side touching the adjacent dominoes forms a chain which grows in length as each domino is added to it. Each player, in turn, plays a tile onto the chain which is positioned such that the number shown on the exposed ends of the tile matches that displayed on one or other end of a previous domino in the chain. If the player’s tile adds to a number already present on either end of the chain, that chain is said to be “stitched up” and points may be awarded for this development.

For a long time, domino sets were made from bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory or a dark wood such as ebony. More recently, however, they have been made from a variety of other materials including stone (such as marble, granite or soapstone); ceramic clay; metals such as brass and pewter; and even frosted glass. While these sets tend to be more expensive, they have a much richer look than the polymer sets.

As a result of the greater perceived value and the difficulty in sourcing natural material, many people prefer to purchase domino sets that are a combination of the more traditional materials. These typically feature the top layer thickness in MOP, ivory or ebony with a lower layer of black onyx or a dark hardwood such as walnut or birch. Some of these sets also offer the option of having the pips inlaid or painted in contrasting colors.

Whether you play the game of domino with family or friends, or simply enjoy laying down tiles to see how far your chain can spread, there’s a certain magic to the process of watching that first piece tip and then seeing all the others fall in an organized and rhythmic cascade. But what exactly allows that to happen? Physicist Stephen Morris explains that standing a domino upright gives it potential energy, or stored energy based on its position. As soon as the first domino falls, however, much of that potential energy is converted to kinetic energy, or energy of motion. This energy is then transferred to the next domino, which receives the push it needs to topple.

In the case of the first domino, that tiny nudge comes from friction. As the top of the domino slides down over the bottom of the next domino, it creates heat and sound, which transmit to the next domino, which then receives a second push until all the pieces fall in an elegant chain reaction.

In a similar way, writing a story involves the same kind of logic. Whether you’re a “pantser,” who writes without an outline, or a “plotter,” who meticulously plans every detail of your book, you need to consider how each scene might impact the ones that come before it. Using the domino effect as your guide, we’ve got some tips for how to make this process more effective.