Dominoes and the Domino Effect


Dominoes are flat, thumbsized rectangular blocks, with one or both sides bearing from one to six pips (or dots) and the other blank. A complete set of dominoes consists of 28 such pieces. Dominoes are commonly used as a game played by two or more people, in which players score points by laying adjacent tiles end to end (i.e., the exposed ends of the first tile must match: one’s touch two’s, or three’s touch four’s). Dominoes may be stacked on end in long lines; such a line is called a “domino train” or “train,” and can be used to create complex shapes when it falls. A player who plays all of his or her tiles wins the game.

Dominoes have been around for centuries. They’re a great example of how a simple idea can inspire an entire industry. And they’re also a good illustration of the domino effect, which is when one thing leads to much bigger — and sometimes even catastrophic — consequences.

The word domino is derived from the Latin phrase for “flip.” Originally, it meant to place something on top of another item. Later, it came to mean a kind of cape worn by a priest over his or her surplice at mass. It’s thought that this garment triggered the name of the domino piece, as it reminded people of a black domino contrasted with a white surplice.

Physicist Stephen Morris, author of The Domino Principle, describes the way a domino chain works: When you set up a row of dominoes, they have potential energy because they stand upright against gravity. But when you knock over the first domino, that potential energy is converted into kinetic energy, which causes the next domino to fall and push on the rest of the row. As each successive domino falls, it creates more friction and generates more kinetic energy, which then causes still more dominoes to fall.

A domino show is a popular form of entertainment that features talented builders setting up intricate domino effects and reactions before a live audience. In a typical show, hundreds or thousands of dominoes are set up in a carefully coordinated sequence. Then, a master builder, like Hevesh, nudges the first domino past its tipping point, and it tumbles into a cascade of spectacular domino reactions.

Although dominoes are often associated with games and train formations, they’re also a fun toy that can be used to make art. Many kids love to line up dominoes in straight or curved lines, grids that form pictures when they fall, or 3D structures like towers and pyramids. But what is really fascinating about dominoes is how a tiny nudge can cause an entire row to tumble. It’s the same concept that applies to writing a novel: Focusing your energy on one key activity can help you move other interests forward. Watch the video below to see how this works. Whether you write your manuscript off the cuff or follow an outline, using the domino effect in your story can help you create an arc that keeps readers engaged.