The Basics of Dominos


A domino is a flat thumb-sized rectangular block, the face of which bears an arrangement of dots (often called pips) that total from one to six. The pieces can be arranged in lines or angular patterns to play a variety of games. A complete set consists of 28 such pieces. The word domino is also used to refer to the various games played with them, and to the underlying principles that govern their play.

Dominos have a long history. The game itself was probably first recorded in Europe in the mid-18th century; but, like its name, it may go back even further. In both English and French, the term Domino had earlier denoted a hooded cloak worn with a mask in a carnival or masquerade. The cloak was traditionally black, which suggested the color of domino pieces.

The basic domino game is simple. Each player takes turns placing a domino edge to edge against another domino of the same number, until all of the tiles are covered and there are no more moves. Then the players “knock” or rap on the table, and play passes to the next player. Depending on the rules, a player may continue to play until he or she cannot move, at which point he or she wins the game.

There are many variations of the game, but most of them use the same rules. The most common sets commercially available contain double six and double nine dominoes. Larger sets exist, but they are primarily intended for use by players interested in playing lengthy domino games.

Some of the most popular domino games are positional, in which a player scores by laying a series of dominoes end to end so that their exposed ends match (i.e., a “one” touches a “two,” a “three” touches a “four,” and so on). The most complex domino games are based on mathematical operations.

Dominos have become popular as a way to teach children counting skills, but they have also found a place in art and therapy. In the arts, dominoes are a versatile medium for creating three-dimensional sculptures and landscapes, and they can also be used to create interactive paintings. In therapy, dominoes are sometimes used to teach patients how to control their impulses and emotions.

Lily Hevesh has been creating incredible domino installations for more than a decade. She says that although there are many factors involved in creating a great domino design, the most important is one physical phenomenon: gravity. The force that pulls a fallen domino toward Earth causes it to impact the next piece and start a chain reaction. She makes test versions of each section of her projects and films them in slow motion, to make sure they work perfectly. Some of her largest domino designs take several nail-biting minutes to fall.