How Dominoes Are Used Around the World

Dominoes have a long history of use around the world and remain a popular pastime for people of all ages. They are also an integral part of many cultures, serving as a unifying force that transcends linguistic and geographical boundaries.

A domino is a small, oblong piece of material (usually plastic) that is marked with one or more rows of round or square “pips” and has a matching number on the other side. The name derives from the Latin word dominus, meaning “lord, master.”

When a domino is tipped just so, all the other pieces in the line fall in a beautiful rhythm. The effect is called the domino effect, and it can be used to create dramatic scenes in movies and books.

To play a domino game, the player must first set up the line of play by placing tiles edge to edge. This configuration is known as the layout, string or line of play. The open end of the last tile played must be adjacent to the other ends of the line. Then, in turn, each player adds a domino to the line of play by touching it to the adjacent open end of another domino. The value of the added domino is determined by the rules of the particular game.

In some games, a player may buy the entire stock by placing a single domino in the middle of the stock. When this occurs, the remaining tiles are not available for purchase. In other cases, a player may only purchase a single tile from the stock.

The earliest domino sets were made of materials such as bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl) and ivory with contrasting black or white pips. More recently, sets have been made from polymer materials such as plastic or clay, as well as from natural materials including marble and granite. Some of the older sets are very valuable and collector’s items.

Some people make domino art, creating intricate lines of curved or straight dominoes that form pictures when they fall, stacked walls or 3-D structures such as towers or pyramids. To create such art, the artist must carefully plan out how to arrange the dominoes and how they will be toppled.

Lily Hevesh, a professional domino artist who creates displays for movie productions and helped set a Guinness record for the most dominoes in a circular arrangement, says she starts each project by thinking about the theme or purpose. Then she brainstorms images or words and draws a plan for how to arrange the dominoes. She might divide her plan into fractions to help her calculate how many dominoes she will need and how they will be arranged.

She might also omit some dominoes from the final plan, so that if she or a teammate accidentally topples one of them, it won’t bring the whole thing crashing down. Finally, she must practice her setup, trying to prevent big accidental topples while allowing small ones.