How Do Dominoes Work?

Whether lined up in long rows or used to play games, dominoes are an intriguing toy. But what are they, exactly? And how do they work? To answer these questions, we turned to a domino expert.

A domino is a tile with a face, back and indentations, called pip marks, that represent numbers. Each side of a domino is marked with one of the digits from 0 to 9. The dominoes in a traditional Western set are usually white with black pip marks, although they can come in almost any color combination. A domino has two square halves, with each half containing a different number of pip marks. In order to make a domino fit a certain game, its pips must match either the adjacent side of another domino (e.g., a 5 to 5 match) or form some specified total (e.g., a six-point pattern).

While some people use dominoes to make art or decorate their homes, others simply enjoy playing games with them. When the first domino falls, much of its potential energy converts to kinetic energy—the energy of motion. This kinetic energy travels to the next domino in the chain, providing the push needed for it to fall over too. The cycle continues until all the dominoes have fallen.

In addition to the standard 28 pieces, many sets have been extended by introducing ends with additional pip marks. This allows for more possible combinations of end matches, which increases the number of dominoes in a layout and the number of different ways to win a game.

Dominoes may be made from a variety of materials, including metal, plastic and polymer clay. However, dominoes are most often made from bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl) or ivory with contrasting black or white pips that are inlaid or painted. Some sets are even made from natural materials such as stone (e.g., marble or soapstone); other woods such as hickory, oak or redwood; ebony; and some are even made from ceramic clay.

A domino’s design, the underlying structure, and how it is assembled together are all critical to the way a domino works. Hevesh uses a version of the engineering-design process to create her mind-blowing domino setups. She starts by considering the theme or purpose of an installation, brainstorming images and words that might be appropriate. She then develops a design for the layout and starts to build it.

When the domino effect is in play, it means that something small has a large influence on a larger system. For example, a domino effect can occur when one company buys another, leading to the sale of more companies or mergers of credit unions. The domino effect can also be seen in a person’s personal life when someone experiences a significant loss or setback. It can have lasting effects on relationships, careers and even family finances. This is why it is important to deal with problems as they arise.

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