The Art of Domino

Domino is the name of a game that involves stacking small rectangular blocks on end in long lines. When the first domino is tipped over, it sets off a chain reaction in which the remaining dominoes quickly tip over one after the other. Some people like to build very large and complex domino designs. Others use dominoes for practical purposes, such as in physics demonstrations and in tiling a room. The word domino also refers to a figurative chain reaction, as in the popular phrase, the “domino effect,” which means that a relatively minor event can have much greater–and sometimes even catastrophic–consequences than might be expected.

The word domino is derived from the Latin verb dominium, which means “to rule.” It is believed that the first use of the term was by English writer Richard Alsop in 1834. In a newspaper column, Alsop described how one small action could lead to an endless series of events like a falling row of dominoes. The phrase grew in popularity and was soon applied to political events, including the Cold War. President Eisenhower famously used the analogy to explain America’s decision to offer aid to South Vietnam, saying, “If you push a country over in Indochina, it will set off a series of events like a long line of dominoes.”

Most domino sets include 28 tiles with matching ends. The dominoes can be played in straight or curved lines. Each tile has an identifying mark on one side, and the other sides are blank or marked with an arrangement of spots similar to those on dice. When a player lays a new domino, the two matching ends must touch. Additional tiles can be played to a double so that all four ends of the domino are touching in some way, but usually only the one long side of a double is open for play.

Lily Hevesh, a master domino artist who creates mind-blowing displays and has even taught classes on the subject, follows a sort of engineering design process when creating her installations. She begins with a theme or purpose in mind, then brainstorms images or words that might relate to it. She then considers how she might best express the theme with a layout of dominoes. Finally, she tests the layout to make sure it works as intended.

In a domino game, the way that an individual stacks the tiles has a significant impact on the outcome of the match. For example, in a game called All Fives, the rules require that the exposed ends of each domino must match to form a row of five tiles with all of the numbers from one through five. If any of the rows of five are incomplete, then the players receive points equal to the number of missing tiles in that row.

In the business world, Domino’s CEO and chairman, Jim Doyle, has put his own stamp on the company by embracing the domino principle. He listens to employees, and this has led to a looser dress code, new leadership training programs, and college recruiting initiatives.