The Domino Effect


A domino is a flat, thumbsized, rectangular block with one side bearing an arrangement of spots or dots that are identically patterned on the other side; 28 such pieces form a complete set. Dominoes are used in games such as monopoly, in which players score points by building lines and angular patterns of dominos, and blocking games that involve emptying opponents’ hands and preventing them from playing any more tiles.

While Hevesh may use math and geometry to create her mind-blowing domino arrangements, she says one physical phenomenon is essential for her success: gravity. “When I pick up a domino, I’m lifting it against the force of gravity,” she explains. “That gives it potential energy, or the energy it has based on its position.” When Hevesh nudges her massive setups, this energy converts to kinetic energy, or the energy of motion. As that kinetic energy travels to the next domino in the chain, it pushes it over, and so on, creating a domino effect.

Hevesh has worked on projects involving hundreds of thousands of dominoes, and her largest arrangements can take several nail-biting minutes to fall. Nevertheless, she’s careful not to force any of them. Instead, she follows a version of the engineering-design process: she makes test versions of each section of an installation and films them in slow motion to ensure that they work individually. Then she assembles them, starting with the biggest 3-D sections first and then adding flat arrangements and finally lines of dominoes that connect them all together.

The word domino derives from the Latin dominus, meaning lord or master. Like the game of domino, it teaches us about cause and effect—as well as the importance of thinking ahead and being cautious. If you want to be a domino master, you need to consider the consequences of every action and know how to spot opportunities to advance your position in the chain.

Like a deck of cards, dominoes have many different games played with them, most of which involve scoring points by matching the ends of dominoes (one’s touching ones, two’s touching two’s, and so on). The rules vary from one game to another; for example, some doubles count as one while others count as two.

Some dominoes are made from natural materials, including bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory, or a dark hardwood such as ebony. Others are made from polymers or ceramic clay. A few sets are even fashioned from crystal or frosted glass. In addition to blocking and scoring games, domino also can be played in a number-spotting format in which players try to get as close to a specified total as possible. These types of games usually involve counting the pips on opposing player’s tiles to determine the winner. These games also help to develop a child’s hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.