A domino is a small rectangular block with anywhere from 0 to 6 dots that are used in the game of dominoes. The pieces are usually stacked on one another, but they can also be stood up in curved lines or other formations. When the first domino is knocked over, it initiates a chain reaction that causes hundreds or even thousands of others to fall. This is the domino effect, and it’s what gives dominoes their appeal.
The history of dominoes has been a long and winding one. The earliest known set was made in China during the 12th or 13th century, and it was functionally similar to a standard playing card. European dominoes were probably introduced to the West in the mid-18th century. The modern dominoes you buy in stores are typically made from polymer materials, although some sets are made of bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl) or ivory with a dark hardwood like ebony.
Many different types of games are played with dominoes, but some are more challenging than others. The most common games use a double-six set, with two dominoes considered to match if their total number of pips matches. Some of these games involve blocking or scoring points. Others are a variation of a trick-taking or solitaire game. These adaptations of card games were popular in certain areas to circumvent religious proscriptions against playing cards.
Dominoes are also popular as an artistic medium, with artists creating impressive domino setups that can be admired for their beauty or used in films, music videos and events. Dominoes can be set up in straight or curved lines, grids that form pictures, stacked walls and 3D structures such as pyramids. Some artists design their tracks carefully, planning out the way each domino will fall to create a spectacular display.
Lily Hevesh started collecting and playing with dominoes when she was 9 years old, inspired by her grandparents’ classic 28-piece set. By age 10, she had begun creating her own domino art and had a website where she shared her creations. She has since grown into a professional domino artist who creates mind-blowing setups for movies, TV shows and events—including an album launch for Katy Perry.
Hevesh’s work is based on the principle that a single domino has the potential to trigger an entire series of events. She follows a version of the engineering-design process, starting with a theme or purpose for her setup and brainstorming images or words that might fit.
She then calculates how many dominoes she needs and plans out a path for the sequence. She can choose to use a grid that forms a picture, a line of alternating colors or an intricate pattern.
When she is ready to begin, she places the first domino in the proper position and then nudges it slightly. It has inertia, which is the tendency to resist motion when no force is acting on it. The initial nudge, however, will overcome this resistance. As the first domino falls, its potential energy is converted to kinetic energy, which enables it to push on the next domino.