The Domino Effect
Domino is a game in which players set dominoes down end to end in long lines, and then knock them over. The way the dominoes fall creates patterns and designs, such as curved lines and grids that form pictures, or even 3D structures like towers and pyramids. It also provides a model for the concept of the domino effect, in which one action causes many more to happen in a chain reaction. The games themselves can be simple, or complex, and the rules of play vary according to the type of game.
A domino is a flat, thumb-sized rectangular block bearing from one to six pips or dots: 28 such pieces make up a complete set. They are typically used in a variety of positional games, where each player in turn places a domino edge to edge against another such that the adjacent faces are either identical or form a specified total.
The number of tiles is determined by the rules of the game being played; each domino has a different value, depending on the configuration of its pips, and each game has its own unique scoring methods. Some are positional, while others involve scoring based on the number of sides a domino has or the numbers on their ends. Most modern sets use a standardized color code for each type of domino, so that all the players can identify them.
As each tile is played, it forms a new line of dominoes whose configuration is called the layout, string, or line of play. Depending on the rules of the game, the line may extend in any direction. Often, the first domino played is a double and thus a spinner, which can be played on all four sides. In some games, the count is made based on the total number of pips on each end of the line of play, which can be determined by counting the ends of the dominoes as the game progresses.
Physicist Stephen Morris explains that when a domino is standing upright, it has potential energy because of the force of gravity pulling on it. When the domino falls over, much of that energy is converted into kinetic energy, or the energy of motion, and this causes the next domino in the line to tip. In the process, it sets off a chain reaction that continues until all the dominoes have fallen over.
Hevesh, an artist who has created some of the most elaborate domino arrangements ever toppled, says that although many physical phenomena are involved in her works, one key element makes them possible: gravity. She’s worked on projects that require hundreds of thousands of dominoes and has helped to set a Guinness record for the most dominoes toppled in a circular arrangement. The process of creating her intricate creations can take several nail-biting minutes, but she says that once she has the dominoes in place, they’re largely self-governing.