The Art of Playing Dominoes


Domino is a small rectangular block marked with two groups of spots on one side and used for playing many different games. The word domino comes from the Latin for “falling”. Physicist Stephen Morris, who has studied the behavior of dominoes and other systems that self-organize, says: “When you put a domino upright, it stores energy in the form of its position. Then, when you nudge it with something, the potential energy is converted into kinetic energy, and that enables it to push on other dominoes.”

Lily Hevesh has been fascinated by dominoes since she was 9. When her grandparents gave her the classic 28-pack, she loved lining them up in straight or curved lines and flicking the first to set off a chain reaction. Now, at 20, she’s a professional domino artist with a YouTube channel where she shares her creations with more than 2 million subscribers. She’s also made impressive domino setups for movies, TV shows and events—and even a Katy Perry album launch.

Like a good novel, a successful domino set requires careful planning and preparation. Hevesh spends weeks or months planning her designs and assembling the pieces to make sure everything goes smoothly. She knows that the best dominoes are not just large but also well-balanced. She looks for tasks that require a significant chunk of time and focus, but also have the potential to move other interests forward.

She often works with partners. The first player to play a domino must agree with their opponent on the value of that end—it may be blank or bear from one to six pips (or dots). Afterward, each partner chooses a domino to play. If it has the same value as an opposing piece, that piece is placed on top of it, and so on. The player who reaches a predetermined score or the highest total number of pips wins the game.

A domino’s weight depends on its number of pips, as well as the size and material of the piece. Typically, the heavier the domino, the more pips it has. In general, double-pips are worth more than single-pips and blanks are worth less. Each game has its own rules for determining how the dominoes are ranked, but the common ones award points based on the sum of the numbers on each piece—and whether it’s double or double-blank.

The most popular dominoes are made of plastic or bone, but they can be made from a variety of materials: natural stone such as marble, granite and soapstone; woods such as walnut, oak, and redwood; metals such as brass and pewter; ceramic clay; or glass and crystal. Some sets are crafted from precious stones such as silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl, or MOP); ivory; and dark hardwoods such as ebony, with contrasting black or white pips.

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