You’ve probably seen it before, those satisfying videos of a long chain of dominoes toppling away until they all fall. Each one builds on the previous one, adding to a growing cascade until it reaches the bottom and reveals something amazing underneath—like a giant artwork or portrait. You’ve also seen the domino effect in action in your own life, where one small trigger can cause a series of events that may seem to happen at random, but actually are the result of careful planning and consistency.
Dominoes are rectangular pieces of wood or composite material, normally twice as long as they are wide. Their identifying side is marked with an arrangement of dots or “pips” similar to those on the sides of a die; the other two sides are blank or identically patterned. Each end of a domino is usually marked with a number, and the value of that number, which ranges from six to none or blank, is the rank or weight of that particular domino. A domino with a higher rank is considered heavier than one with a lower rank.
Each domino is arranged in a layout based on its rank and weight. During gameplay, players place tiles edge-to-edge against each other so that one end shows the same number as another end, thus creating a line of dominoes that increases in length. If a player places a tile so that both ends show the same number, it is called “stitching up” the ends.
A domino layout is divided into squares, with each end of a domino having a maximum number of open squares. When all squares are filled with dominoes, the layout is complete. Most domino games allow additional dominoes to be placed only against an open square, and a player is said to have “taken a turn” when they have filled all of the open squares on a domino.
When one domino falls, much of its potential energy converts to kinetic energy, the energy of motion (see Converting Energy). Some of that kinetic energy is transmitted to the next domino in line, giving it the push needed to fall over. The rest of the energy is dissipated in the air, or absorbed by other dominoes in the same line.
The word “domino” is derived from the Latin dominium, meaning “feet.” A set of dominoes, or “bones,” is known as a “domino,” and the term may refer to either the tiles themselves or to the game of placing them in a line. When a domino is used to initiate the play of another, it is then referred to as a “piece” or a “bomb.” Dominoes are most often used in conjunction with other game components such as dice and a scoring system. They are also used as decorative ornaments in homes and public buildings. They are also used in education, both to teach basic mathematics and as a tool for developing social skills and emotional intelligence.