The Fun of Dominoes

A domino is a small oblong piece of material bearing one to six pips on each side. It is used to play games of skill and chance in which players arrange them edge to edge on a table to form a line, each player seeking to place a domino that will add up to a certain total. Normally, only the number showing on both ends of a domino can be used to match the value of another domino already in the line; each player has to wait for such a match before playing his next turn.

The name of the game derives from Latin dominus, meaning “lord” or “master.” The word domino has also been used to refer to a long hooded cloak worn in conjunction with a mask at carnival seasons and masquerades. In English, the word appeared in the early 18th century, and it is believed that it was borrowed from French.

As a novelist, you can think of each scene in your story as a domino. In fact, every plot point—whether it’s a car accident or a trip to the zoo—should be a domino that sets up an entire chain reaction. And that chain reaction is what makes a great story.

Dominoes are also a great tool to teach children about numbers, as well as strategy and pattern recognition. The simplest way to play is called the Block Game, where each player starts with 7 dominoes, and the first person to place all of their tiles wins. The Draw Game is similar, except the player who can’t place a domino passes his turn and picks up a sleeping domino that he adds to his own set.

There are many other domino games, however. In some, players are paired and take turns placing their dominoes on the table. These pairs then compete to see who can build the longest domino chain in their partnered area.

In addition to the aforementioned, there are blocking games such as Matador and Mexican Train, and scoring games like Bergen and Muggins. Occasionally, some of these games also involve duplicate card games.

A large part of the excitement associated with dominoes comes from watching a line of thousands—or even hundreds of thousands—of dominoes, all lined up and waiting to topple with just a little nudge. This kind of display is often the centerpiece of domino shows, in which skilled builders set up intricate chains of dominoes to win a prize.

Although there are several types of domino, the ones most popular in the United States include clay, polymer, and plastic. The latter tend to be the cheapest, but they have limited color and shape flexibility. A number of high-end ceramic sets are available, and these offer superior durability and visual appeal. Other more expensive sets are made from different natural materials, including bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory, or a dark hardwood such as ebony; each piece is inlaid or painted with black or white pips.