The Domino Effect


When a domino is knocked over, much of its potential energy converts to kinetic energy—the energy of motion. That kinetic energy travels to the next domino, giving it the push it needs to fall. And so on, until the last domino has fallen. That is one form of the “domino effect,” which can be applied to events in both real life and fiction.

Dominos are a popular toy and have been used for centuries in many parts of the world to play a variety of games. Each domino is rectangular and is marked with an arrangement of dots, called pips, on its two opposite faces. It also has a line or ridge across its center, which helps it stand upright. The pips are like those on a die, although some of the squares are blank. Most domino sets contain 21 pips.

Western dominoes were first recorded in the mid-18th century. The game was likely introduced to England by French prisoners toward the end of that century. Today, domino is most commonly used for positional games in which players place dominoes edge to edge against each other, such as one 5 to 5 or one 3 to 3.

The first player to lay a domino with a matching pair of ends wins the round. The remaining players continue placing dominoes, positioning them so that the exposed ends of their tiles match those of the previous domino. The resulting chain, known as a “domino chain,” builds in length.

A person who is very skilled at playing dominoes may be able to build a domino chain that is shaped like a snake, a horseshoe, or another shape. He or she may also be able to place dominoes with matching pips on both sides, which can be useful for scoring points or making certain shapes.

As the popularity of dominoes grew, so did interest in using them for artistic or engineering purposes. For example, a number of artists create mind-blowing domino installations that are meant to impress. One such artist, Hevesh, has a YouTube channel with more than 2 million subscribers and works on team projects that involve massive setups of hundreds of thousands of dominoes.

Hevesh uses a version of the engineering-design process when creating her domino setups. She starts by considering the theme or purpose of the installation. Then she brainstorms images or words that can be associated with it. Finally, she draws or sketches a plan for the dominoes. This helps her see how the pieces will fit together and ensures that they will work with the laws of physics. Once she is happy with the design, she starts placing the dominoes. Her largest domino installations take several nail-biting minutes to fall, but once they do, the results are spectacular.