The Art of Domino

Domino is a game in which players set up dominoes end to end in long lines and then knock them over. The rules are simple: one domino must touch the ends of the other dominoes (i.e., a one’s end touches a two’s end) and the exposed points on both ends must be equal: a total of any multiple of five is the winning score. Dominoes can be stacked in all sorts of ways: straight lines, curved lines, grids that form pictures, and even 3D structures like towers and pyramids. It’s a great way to get kids excited about science and math.

The word domino comes from the Latin dominus, meaning “lord.” In the game, a master domino sets the initial domino up and then moves other dominoes around it to create an overall design before the whole set falls. Stacking the dominoes in this way also allows people to make very complex art.

Many people love to play dominoes as a form of relaxation, but some people build them in a more artistic fashion. Creating domino art requires patience and attention to detail, but the results are spectacular. Artists can create curved lines, grids that form pictures when they fall, and even 3D structures such as towers and pyramids. Some artists use colored dominoes to make their designs pop.

Another common use of the word domino is in phrases such as, “The domino effect,” which describes a series of events that leads to greater-than-expected consequences. Physicist Stephen Morris agrees with this use of the term, explaining that dominoes have high centers of gravity and that it doesn’t take much to push them past their tipping point. “As the first domino is pushed, its potential energy is converted to kinetic energy and transferred to the next domino in line,” he says. “And so on.”

Hevesh, who creates mind-blowing domino setups for her shows, follows a version of the engineering-design process when planning out her creations. She considers what she wants to achieve and brainstorms ideas for images or words that might appear on the dominoes. She then determines how many dominoes she’ll need to accomplish the task and how big of a space she has to work with.

Dominoes are usually made from wood or a type of resin, but some sets are crafted from more exotic materials. Some are made from silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (MOP), ivory, or a dark hardwood such as ebony with contrasting white or black pips (inlaid or painted). MOP and ivory sets have a more traditional look, but MOP is often considered less durable than plastic. Nevertheless, MOP dominoes are still available and can be found in some museum collections. Many people prefer to buy plastic dominoes, which are more durable and easier on the wallet than the natural materials. But for true domino lovers, the real deal is worth the extra cost.