The Domino Effect

Dominoes are small rectangular blocks that can be stacked on end in long lines. When the first domino is tipped, it triggers a chain reaction that causes all the others to topple over one at a time, until they reach their limit and stop. This is the origin of the term domino effect, a phrase used to describe a sequence of events that starts with a single action and results in much greater–and often catastrophic–consequences.

Lily Hevesh, 20, was fascinated by dominoes as a kid: She would set them up in straight or curved lines, flick the first one and watch the line fall, domino after domino. But she took her hobby to another level when she started posting videos of her creations on YouTube. Now she’s a professional domino artist, creating intricate sets for movies, TV shows and events like the album launch of pop star Katy Perry.

Historically, dominoes have been made of materials such as bone, silver lip oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory or a dark hardwood such as ebony. More recently, dominoes are also manufactured from plastic and other resins, ceramics and composite materials. Most are painted or lacquered in bright colors, although some are left natural. Some are even 3D, with sculpted faces or carved shapes.

In games where more than one person plays, the score is determined by whose combined total of spots on their remaining dominoes is lowest at the end of the game. A player can “domino” (play) only if they can legally do so with their existing tiles; otherwise, they are “knocked out” and play passes to the other players. When the game reaches a point at which no player can proceed, it stops. In partnerships, the partners whose combined total of spots is lowest win.

There are numerous games that can be played with dominoes, and each has a unique layout and rules for playing. Some are based on matching numbers, while others involve counting the number of spaces on a single tile and placing them to match that count. Still other games are based on forming particular combinations of tiles, or “scores,” as they are called.

While the name “domino” is derived from the Spanish word for fate, the game itself dates back to the early 18th century. It first surfaced in Europe and became a fad, spawning many variants. The name subsequently spread to Asia, where it gained a new meaning: referring to the use of hooded robes with masks at a masquerade. In China, the game is known as pupai. Chinese dominoes have blank sides and do not represent the 21 possible outcomes of two thrown dice as European sets do. These differences are a major reason why the terms domino and dominoes are sometimes used interchangeably.