How Dominoes Are Used in Art Installations


Dominoes are a familiar toy most children learn to play with, stacking them on end in long lines and then flicking the first domino over to set off a chain reaction that ultimately topples all of the dominoes. More sophisticated setups can be made with curved lines that form pictures when they fall, stacked walls, or even 3-D structures like towers and pyramids. Lily Hevesh, a professional domino artist who creates mind-blowing installations for movies, TV shows, and events like Katy Perry’s album release, says her process involves using a version of engineering design. She starts by considering the theme or purpose of an installation and brainstorming images or words she might want to use. From there, she calculates how many dominoes she’ll need to make the design work and makes test versions of each section before putting them all together. She then checks that each domino works properly, making adjustments where needed.

The earliest known dominoes were used in China during the 12th or 13th century. The name comes from the Latin word domino, which originally meant “small flat piece of ivory or bone used as a gaming object.” Some historians believe that the early pieces were functionally identical to playing cards. The name also has other etymological connections: English and French both once used domino to refer to a long hooded cape worn over a mask at carnival or masquerade, and in both languages it may be connected to the robe of a priest over his surplice.

In the 18th century, Europeans began to use dominoes in positional games. Each player placed a domino edge to edge against another in such a way that the adjacent sides were either identical (e.g., 5 to 5) or formed some other specified total. The game evolved to include a number of different rules and scoring systems, but it is best known today as the game of domino.

Each domino has a number of pips on its two ends. Each end of a domino is also connected to another domino via an “eve,” which helps to form a continuous line of tiles. The pips on a domino belong to one of two suits: the suit of numbers or the blank, or 0 suit. A tile can belong to both suits, but the number on each end must match.

The most common domino sets are double six and double nine, with larger sets available for players who want to play longer domino games. The most popular type of domino game is a layout game, in which the goal is to form a domino chain with an end that reaches your opponent’s apex. The apex is usually an open space, such as the end of a line or a corner of a square, but in some games the apex is hidden from view and play continues to a spot behind your opponent’s apex. This is sometimes referred to as the “blocking” strategy.