Dominoes and the Domino Effect

If you’ve ever seen a domino show—a long lineup of hundreds, even thousands, of dominoes set up in carefully sequence and all toppled with the nudge of just one—you’ve probably marveled at the way that a single small move can unleash a flurry of action. In writing, we use the term “domino effect” to describe scenes that build on each other to create a narrative cascade.

Dominoes are flat rectangular blocks of rigid material, such as wood or bone, used for gaming purposes. Each domino has an identifying mark on one side and is blank or identically patterned on the other. Generally, the identifying marks are an arrangement of spots, or “pips,” similar to those on a die, with some squares being blank. This system of markings allows for a variety of games to be played.

Most modern sets of dominoes are made of polymer materials, such as plastic or resin, but older and specialty sets have been made of bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother-of-pearl), ivory, ebony, or other hardwoods. These types of sets tend to be more durable and have a heavier feel than those made from polymer materials. They also are often more affordable than sets made from more expensive materials.

Although they can be used to play a wide variety of games, most dominoes are played by placing one tile edge to edge against another in a line or on a flat surface, with the two matching ends touching. The shape of the resulting chain, which develops into a “snake-line” at the end, depends on the particular game being played.

In many of these games, the matching ends must be adjacent, but in others, it’s enough that the tiles touch fully and that their pips match (e.g., two doubles or three triples). The matching sides may be identical, different, or mixed—a combination of all three. The number of matched pairs determines the value of the domino being placed.

Dominoes are used in some educational activities, particularly for teaching numbers and counting. For example, a child can place a domino on top of a piece of paper with a number written on it and then pick up the tile that represents that number to complete the trail. Children can also use dominoes to learn about colours. For instance, they can take a piece of paper and colour it with various domino tile colours to make a trail; then, as they go through the trail, ask them to place each coloured domino in order of its hue. These kinds of activities are also popular in the arena of domino shows, where builders compete to create the most impressive and mind-boggling domino effect before an audience of fans. The builders must be careful to follow a certain process for creating their setups in order to ensure that the final result is accurate and consistent with each other. They must plan out what they want to achieve before starting, and then work their way through the necessary steps in order to accomplish their goals.