When you think of domino, you may picture a line of small wood or plastic blocks, each bearing an arrangement of dots resembling those on dice. But the word also has a more specific meaning: a game or system that depends on the falling of one tile after another to achieve its end. It is sometimes used to refer to an entire sequence of events or circumstances, as in “The domino effect.” And it can even be used to describe a business strategy.
When Lily Hevesh started playing with her grandparents’ 28-tile set of classic dominoes, she loved setting them up in straight or curved lines, then flicking the first one and watching the whole chain fall. She started posting videos of her creations on YouTube and has now become a professional domino artist. She’s been hired to create setups for movies, TV shows and even an album launch by pop star Katy Perry.
While Hevesh’s technique requires a lot of practice, she says it isn’t hard to learn. She recommends starting out with a simple setup like a rectangle or square and then moving on to more complicated shapes. She also tests each section of a setup before putting it all together, so she can make precise corrections if something doesn’t work.
The most popular use of dominoes is in positional games, where players place tiles edge to edge against each other in such a way that their exposed ends match (one’s touch one’s or two’s touch two’s). When the resulting line is complete the player scores by counting all the adjacent dots—the ones touching each other and those beyond them.
In the game of double-nine, for example, each player takes a total of nine dominoes at the start. The goal is to play all of them before the opponent does. Each additional tile placed increases the number of open ends, making it more difficult to make a match.
Physicist Stephen Morris, of the University of Toronto, notes that standing up a domino gives it potential energy, and when the domino falls, this energy is converted to kinetic energy. This change of energy is what causes the chain reaction that allows domino after domino to tumble over.
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Lee Schwab, CEO of Bethlehem Steel, used domino as a management strategy for prioritizing tasks. Every day he would rank his tasks from most important to least important, and then focus on the task with the greatest impact on the business. He would continue working on this task until it was completed, and then move onto the next. By following this method, he increased the company’s production by more than five times in just five years.