The Basics of Domino

Domino, a game of skill and strategy with rectangular tiles, has captured people’s imaginations for centuries. The game has evolved to include many different rules and variations, but its basic premise remains the same: players arrange the dominoes edge to edge in such a way that the ends form a chain of numbers or other patterns that lead to the first domino to fall. In addition to being a popular pastime, domino can also be used as a tool for teaching math and other subjects.

Most domino sets are made of a durable polymer such as bone, silver lip oyster shell (mother of pearl), or ivory with contrasting black or white pips. However, some of the more historic and elegant sets are made from natural materials such as stone (e.g., marble or granite); other woods (e.g., ebony); metals (e.g., brass or pewter); ceramic clay; and other exotic materials. These sets are usually more expensive than their polymer counterparts, and they are crafted to have a more substantial feel and look.

In most domino games, the starting setup consists of 28 tiles that are shuffled together to form a stock, or “boneyard.” Each player draws seven dominoes from this stock and begins building their domino chains. Throughout the game, players must take turns playing a domino on the table, positioning it so that it touches either end of a matching domino already on the table. Then, the next player must draw more tiles and place them on the board, continuing the process until one domino is left in the opponent’s hand or the winning chain forms.

When a domino is played, the matching end of the tile touches another domino already on the board and becomes an end of that line of play. The remaining open ends must then be counted, or tallied up. If a double is played to an existing end, the two halves must be touching completely. This method of scoring is generally preferred by the majority of domino enthusiasts.

As a domino falls, much of its potential energy converts to kinetic energy that causes the adjacent tiles to shift slightly, providing a push that leads to more falling dominoes. This energy is transmitted from the first domino to the rest of the chain until it all comes crashing down.

For Hevesh, a master domino builder who works to create mind-blowing setups for shows and competitions, the design process is very similar to that of an engineering-design project. She considers the overall theme or purpose of the setup she’s creating and brainstorms images or words that relate to that concept. Once she’s decided on a theme or idea, she focuses on creating a system that supports it. She builds a small model to test her ideas and then scales them up as needed before the actual setup is constructed in front of live audiences. For the most elaborate domino setups, she may construct hundreds or even thousands of individual dominoes in careful sequence, all of which must eventually topple with a nudge from only one.