How to Play Dominoes

Dominoes are flat, thumbsized rectangular blocks with one side blank and the other bearing from one to six pips or dots. They are used for a variety of games in which players place dominoes edge to edge on the table, positioning them so that their ends show matching numbers and forming a chain. The resulting sequences can range from simple lines to intricate patterns, including grids that form pictures and even 3D structures such as towers and pyramids.

The first player to play a domino begins the game by placing the first domino in the line of play. The next players play their dominoes in turn, laying them down so that they touch the ends of the previously played dominoes. In most games, a player must play a double tile that matches the number shown on the other end of a previous domino, unless the rules specify otherwise.

When a player has no more dominoes in his hand to play, he passes his turn and draws new tiles from the stock. In some games the player who draws the heaviest tile will make the first play. In others, the winner of the last game may begin play, or the player holding the highest double or a single will begin.

To set up a domino, the player places a domino from his hand in front of him, and then slides it toward another domino until its back rests against the other, which is called a rail. The other domino, called the “falling” domino, slides across the top of the falling one and, with a small amount of force, pushes it over. The falling domino then falls to the ground, and the process is repeated with each subsequent domino.

The word domino has the same root as the Italian word for fate, and both denote a sequence of events that determines the outcome of a situation. Its usage in English dates from shortly after 1750. The word was already in use in France, where it referred to a long hooded cloak worn with a mask at carnival time or at a masquerade. It also referred to a priest’s black domino contrasted with his white surplice.

Many people enjoy creating domino art, constructing complex layouts that result in amazing chain reactions when the dominoes fall. Domino art can be as simple or elaborate as the builder wishes, and it is often displayed in public, sometimes in conjunction with other forms of artistic expression, such as paintings or sculptures. People can also compete to see who can build the most impressive domino effect or reaction in a performance before an audience. One such performer, known as the Dynamo, builds astounding domino chains spanning thousands of pieces, which all come crashing down with the gentle nudge of a fingertip. A 1983 study by University of British Columbia physicist Lorne Whitehead demonstrated that the energy required to set up these large chains is equal to a few hundred times that of a human fingertip.