Dominoes are fun to play with, and some people create elaborate domino setups that are amazing to see when they’re knocked over. The way the first domino falls can inspire a chain reaction of hundreds or even thousands of others, which is a principle known as the domino effect. Today’s Wonder of the Day will explore how that happens.
A domino is a small rectangular block with two groups of spots on each end, similar to those on dice. The identifying marks on one side of the domino are called “pips,” and blank or identically patterned sides are referred to as a “slate.” Dominoes come in many colors, shapes, and sizes, but a typical set has 28 pieces. Depending on the type of game, more or less than 28 dominoes may be used. Some sets are extended by adding additional pips to some of the ends, allowing for more unique pieces; most commonly this increases the number of spots from six to seven.
Traditionally, the word domino (and its plural, dominoes) denoted a large hooded robe worn with an eye mask at a carnival masquerade, but it is more recently believed that the name is related to the fact that a Dominican priest once wore a black domino over his white surplice. Another theory is that the name derives from a French word meaning “little crown,” which refers to the small crest on top of the headpiece.
The most common use of a domino is in the game of dominoes, which involves laying down a series of domino tiles in a line and then knocking them over. The most basic rule is that a tile must be placed in a line parallel to the line of tiles already laid, with matching edges touching fully. A piece played to a double must be placed perpendicular to it, and the shape of the domino chain develops from there according to the player’s choices.
In addition to being an enjoyable pastime, a domino can be a useful tool for learning about how simple systems work. As an experiment, lay out a domino set and watch it for a few minutes. Then, very carefully touch one of the dominoes on one edge with your finger. How does it feel? What is happening in the system when you do this?
Lily Hevesh began playing with dominoes when she was 9 years old, and her grandparents had the classic 28-piece set. She liked setting them up in a straight or curved line and then flicking the first domino to make them fall, one by one.
As she got older, Hevesh started experimenting with more intricate domino designs, and she hasn’t stopped since. Her creative process is somewhat like the engineering-design process: she considers a theme or purpose, brainstorms images or words, then comes up with a plan to achieve that goal.
Whether you’re creating a domino design or plotting your next novel, thinking about the domino effect can help you see how one event can lead to countless other events. Just as the first domino in a row causes hundreds and even thousands of others to fall, an effective story needs a strong plot that can keep the reader engaged from beginning to end.