A domino is a small rectangular wooden or plastic block with a number of pips on one face and blank or identically patterned on the other. The pips indicate how many sides the domino has, and this information is used in different ways when playing the game. A person who plays the game of domino uses a set of domino pieces to form a line or chain, called a line of play. The line of play is formed by the opening end of each domino, and as each player makes his or her plays, the resulting chain grows in length.
Domino is also a word that has been adapted to describe any chain reaction of events, particularly political developments. When President Eisenhower gave a speech about the spread of Communism in Indochina, he used the analogy of a falling domino to explain how a country’s policies could have unintended consequences. The use of the domino analogy helped popularize the term to mean any event that might be followed by a series of other events, regardless of whether they were intentional or not.
A domino can be toppled in a variety of ways, but a common method involves dragging or pushing a large object over the domino. The first domino then falls into the center of the larger object, which causes it to fall over as well, continuing the chain effect. An alternative method is to simply allow gravity to pull the first domino toward the ground, which sets off the chain reaction. This is the way that domino artist Hevesh creates her massive domino constructions, some of which take hours to complete and have broken records for the most dominoes in a circular arrangement.
The earliest known sense of the word domino was of a long hooded robe that was worn with a mask during carnival season or at a masquerade. It is suggested that this sense influenced the name of the game as the hooded robes often made of ebony blacks contrasted with a priest’s white surplice. The word appeared in English shortly after 1750 and in French around the same time, but it may have existed in an earlier language.
While the rules for domino games vary, some basic instructions are common to most of them. After the tiles are shuffled and a stock of dominoes is established, each player draws a tile from the stock that matches the pips on the open end of the previous domino played. The player who holds the highest double starts play, and if there is a tie, it is broken by drawing new tiles from the stock. In some games, players may bye, or draw extra tiles from the stock and add them to their hand. These additional tiles cannot be used for the current turn and must be kept for future turns. This is a good way to prevent players from playing too quickly and ruining the game for their opponents.