The Art of Dominoes

The Art of Dominoes


Dominoes are small, flat rectangular blocks used as gaming objects. They are also known as bones, pieces, men, tiles, or spinners. Most domino sets contain 28 individual dominos; each has an identity-bearing side that is marked with dots or pips, and a blank or identically patterned other face. Dominoes are used for blocking and scoring games, as well as for constructing complex layouts. The most popular layouts are straight lines that form pictures, grids that produce patterns when the dominoes fall, and 3D structures such as towers and pyramids.

When people play a domino game, they usually start by placing a single tile on the table. The next player then lays a second tile to touch one end of the first, and so on. The goal is to build a chain of dominoes that ends up as long as possible or as close to it. The longer the chain is, the more points a player can score.

The way that a domino chain develops is part of what makes the game so much fun to play. Each time a new tile is played, the chain extends and changes shape. Adding a double to an existing chain is particularly satisfying, as the two matching sides of the domino must be adjacent to each other (one’s touching one’s or two’s touching two’s). When this happens, additional dominoes can be placed on either side of the double.

Some games are played with the whole domino set, and other games involve only a portion of the set. The number of dominoes that a player can play before being “out” determines the winner of a given game. A domino is considered to be out when all the numbers showing on its ends are covered, although some games allow players to win by playing their last domino before this point.

One of the most interesting and challenging ways to use dominoes is to construct a complicated layout that will produce an intricate pattern when the dominoes fall. Hevesh, an artist who creates these impressive domino art installations, uses a version of the engineering-design process to plan out her creations. She starts by considering the theme of a design, then brainstorms images and words that might be appropriate for the piece. Finally, she calculates how many dominoes she will need for the layout.

The word domino derives from the Latin dominus, meaning lord or master. The exact origin of the word is not clear, but it may have come from the name of a person who owned or controlled a structure, such as a palace or a colony. The modern sense of the word is perhaps influenced by its use in the name of a type of chessboard, and by its association with a type of mask worn at carnival or masquerade balls.

As the domino is tipped ever-so-slightly over, much of its potential energy converts to kinetic energy. This kinetic energy is transmitted to the next domino in line, which then pushes on the following ones with greater force. As this continues, the entire set eventually falls in a rhythmic cascade.