Dominoes Are More Than Just Dominoes


Dominoes, cousins of playing cards and one of the oldest game tools, are an essential ingredient in many games. A domino is a rectangular tile bearing an arrangement of spots, or “pips,” on one side and blank or identically patterned on the other. The pips correspond to the numbers that can be produced by throwing a die. The spots can also be ascribed other, more symbolic meanings. Modern commercial domino sets are typically made of polymer materials like ABS, polystyrene or Bakelite plastics with contrasting black or white dots. But historically, the tiles have been made of a variety of natural materials such as bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl or MOP), ivory and dark woods such as ebony. Sets crafted of these exotic materials are more expensive but provide a superior feel and aesthetic to the modern polymer versions.

In a domino game, the first player to finish placing all of their tiles wins the hand. Each subsequent player then plays a domino from their hand to an adjacent open space on the table. When a tile is played to a double, it must be placed perpendicular to the center of that domino or it is considered a “foul,” and the player is penalized by having to place another Domino on top of it. The shape of the domino chain, which develops at a random rate and is largely determined by the players’ skill and limitations of the playing surface, creates a complex pattern.

Some people play domino with partners, and the winner is whoever has the least number of total points at the end of a hand. Normally, the game is stopped once either partner cannot continue. However, in a variation of the game called “5s and 3s,” a player can earn additional points by attaching a domino to an existing end with a sum divisible by five or three.

In addition to traditional domino games, these special tiles are frequently used as the building blocks for elaborate chains and structures that take a lot of time to build. They are also a staple of modern mechanical devices such as Rube Goldberg machines and can be found in casinos, museums and theme parks. A 20-year-old woman named Hevesh, who has a YouTube channel with more than 2 million subscribers, is a professional domino artist who builds and topples intricate domino setups for a living. Her largest installations can take several nail-biting minutes to fall into place.

Hevesh makes test versions of each section of her displays before putting them all together, and films them in slow motion so she can make precise adjustments when something doesn’t go quite right. She’s worked on projects involving hundreds of thousands of dominoes, and has competed in domino shows where builders attempt to build the most complex and imaginative domino effects and reactions before a live audience.

For writers, domino can also represent the concept of a “domino effect.” A domino effect is the ripple effect that occurs when a single event triggers a series of subsequent events that build on each other and eventually result in a complete and satisfying whole. For example, if you write a scene in your mystery novel in which the heroine uncovers an important clue, but it’s not followed by any other scenes that raise tension or add depth to the story, something’s wrong with the narrative.