The Basics of Dominoes


When you play domino, you place one small rectangular block of wood or plastic on a flat surface. The top of the domino has anywhere from 0 to 6 dots, and the opposite side may be blank or marked with Arabic numerals. Then, you flick the first domino to start a chain reaction that will cause hundreds or thousands of other pieces to fall. It’s a simple idea, but it inspires elaborate patterns and games of skill. Dominoes can be arranged in straight and curved lines, in grids that form pictures when they fall, and even in 3D structures like towers or pyramids. Domino art is also a growing trend, and some artists create intricate setups for movies, TV shows, and events—including an album launch for Katy Perry.

The history of the domino is a tale of innovation and luck, with a bit of mystery mixed in. Some researchers believe that the game was invented in ancient China, where a system of tiles was used to record scores. Others think it may have been developed in Europe around the 18th century, based on a different type of game called “beau soleil.” The first commercial domino set was created by an American named E.O. Monaghan in Ypsilanti, Michigan, in the 1960s. His strategy was to open Domino’s locations near college campuses, where young people would be likely to want pizza quickly.

After Domino’s success, a number of competing companies emerged to sell domino sets. Many of these were made from polymers such as polystyrene or PVC, but more sophisticated sets are now available in materials such as bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory, or a dark hardwood like ebony. The latter have a more luxurious look, and their weight makes them feel substantial in the hand. These sets are more expensive than the polymer versions, however.

Dominoes have long been a popular activity at schools and family gatherings, and are still an entertaining way to spend time with friends or colleagues. A domino can be played by one, two, or more players. Its large surface area allows it to be moved easily, and it is usually twice as wide as it is tall. Depending on the game, a domino may be identified by its value or rank, which is determined by its amount of pips, or by its color or shape.

When a domino is stood upright, it stores energy in the form of potential energy. When the domino is knocked over, much of this energy is converted to kinetic energy that causes the next piece to topple as it is pulled by gravity toward Earth.

This is the basis of the domino effect, a term that was coined in the 1950s to describe the tendency for one action to prompt many others. The Domino’s effect was evident in the United States during the Cold War, when many countries allied with the U.S. to counter Soviet influence in their regions. Those alliances helped to stave off a direct conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, but they also shifted the balance of power in a region.