The Magic of Dominoes

Dominoes are rectangular pieces of wood or other material, typically twice as long as they are wide and bearing a number of spots (or “pips”) on each end. They may also be made of other materials, including ivory; silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl or MOP); stone (e.g., marble, granite, or soapstone); other types of hardwood, such as ash, oak, or redwood; or metals like brass or pewter. In addition, dominoes can be molded into three-dimensional shapes to form structures such as towers or pyramids. Most dominoes are painted black or white with pips, although other colors are sometimes used.

Whether you’re a casual domino player or an experienced one, it’s hard to match the sheer beauty of a well-planned and executed domino setup. A few gentle nudges of the first domino, and all the rest cascade downward in a rhythmic and pleasing pattern. There’s something quite magical about it, and it’s a great metaphor for storytelling.

Lily Hevesh has been playing with dominoes since she was 9 years old, when her grandparents gave her a standard 28-piece set. Now, at 20, she’s an expert domino artist. Her YouTube channel, Hevesh5, has more than 2 million subscribers, and she’s even helped create a domino setup for an event featuring pop star Katy Perry. Creating these mind-blowing domino setups isn’t easy. It takes careful planning, and once you have your track laid out, it takes several nail-biting minutes to ensure that the entire thing falls into place.

Hevesh says the most important factor in making a domino set work is understanding the laws of physics. She and her teammates set up the tracks in straight lines, curved lines, grids that form pictures when they fall, or 3D structures like towers and pyramids. Each piece needs to be perfectly positioned, and it can take days to build the most complex sets.

Each time a domino is played, its value is added to the existing chain of tiles. Most games only allow players to play a tile with a value showing on both ends, but exceptions are sometimes allowed. The first player (determined either by drawing lots or by a simple ranking system based on who has the heaviest hand) then places a domino on the table, positioning it so that its left-hand side is touching the edge of a tile already on the board, and its right-hand side is facing up.

Once the first domino is pushed down, it transfers its potential energy to the next domino in the chain, providing the push needed for that domino to tumble over. This energy continues to transfer from one domino to the next, and so on, until all the tiles have fallen. If a single domino has more than one value, its value is multiplied by the number of other values on adjacent sides to determine its rank. This multiplication process is called the Law of Independent Numbers.