The Basics of Dominoes


Dominoes are small rectangular blocks that form the building block of a game of chance and skill. They can be found in sets of 28 pieces and have many nicknames including bones, cards, chips, men, tiles, spinners, and tickets. They are used for a variety of games in which a player tries to make chains by placing them one tile at a time. The first domino is called the starting or falling domino and the last domino is known as the breaker. When a player plays a tile on a domino chain, the shape of the snake-line develops according to the rules of the game.

Like playing cards, of which they are a variant, dominoes have an identity-bearing face and a blank or identically patterned side. The domino face is divided by a line or ridge into two squares with values that range from six to none or blank. Each square has an arrangement of dots, or pips, that are similar to those on dice. The sum of the values of each side, minus any pips that are blank, determines the rank or weight of the piece.

The most common set of dominoes consists of twenty-four double-twelve or forty-five double-nine tiles. The resulting layout of a domino chain may be circular, square, or rectangular. A domino chain is usually anchored at the start by a single tile with the remaining ends of the layout “stitched up”. A “stitched-up” end enables additional tiles to be played to that area in all directions.

In positional games, each domino is placed edge to edge against another domino that has a number showing on one end. This starts a chain of dominoes that, when completed, will result in a particular result, such as a specific number being added or subtracting from a total, or a certain amount of money being won or lost. The players continue adding and removing dominoes from the chain in turns until the results are as specified.

When a domino is played on the chain, much of its potential energy converts to kinetic energy that knocks over the next domino in the chain until all of the dominoes have fallen. This is the same basic principle that drives an economic model known as the demand curve.

When Hevesh creates one of her mind-blowing domino installations, she follows a version of the engineering design process. She tests each section of the design in slow motion, and then makes any necessary corrections. When she is happy that each section works as intended, she puts it all together. Domino art can be as simple or elaborate as the artist wants: straight lines, curved lines that form pictures when they fall, grids that build 3D structures such as castles and pyramids, and more. Regardless of the complexity, however, each installation is designed with a goal in mind and begins with an understanding of what kind of impact the domino will have when it falls.