The Art of Domino


Domino is a small rectangular wood or plastic block with a number of marked areas on its face. One side of the block is blank or identically patterned, and the other side has an arrangement of dots, or “pips,” that correspond to the spots on a die. The pips on the domino are usually colored black or white. The simplest domino sets consist of 28 pieces, although larger sets may be available.

Dominoes are normally played by placing a domino on the table so that its end touches one end of an existing domino chain, either another domino or a vacant space. A domino chain develops a snake-line shape as additional tiles are placed in succession, connecting adjacent ends of the chain. A tile may be placed in a straight line, cross-ways across a domino chain, or diagonally from one end of a double (a “doublet”).

In some games, the a player must play a domino that matches the number of pips on the opposing player’s tiles, and the players earn points according to the total count of the pips on the matching tiles. The player who earns the most points in a given number of rounds wins the game.

Many different games can be played with domino, and the rules of each game differ slightly. The underlying principles, however, are generally the same. In the most common games, a single domino is played to begin a sequence that continues to grow in length until all the tiles are used. The player whose turn it is to play a domino must decide whether to continue the chain, or “knock” the previous player out of the game.

As a child, Lily Hevesh loved playing with her grandparents’ classic 28-piece set. Now, at 20, she is a professional domino artist, creating mind-blowing displays for movies, TV shows, and events—including the Katy Perry album launch. Her impressive installations are based on simple laws of physics.

Hevesh’s domino installations require careful planning and execution, but they are ultimately built on a bedrock of scientific principles. For example, the physics of gravitation plays an essential role: as a domino falls, it converts its potential energy to kinetic energy. Some of this energy is transmitted to the next domino in the chain, providing the push that causes it to fall. The chain continues to grow until all the dominoes are used.

Historically, domino sets were made from materials such as silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory, or a dark hardwood such as ebony with contrasting black or white pips inlaid or painted on the surface. Modern dominoes are often manufactured from polymer. However, some manufacturers offer a variety of other natural materials, including marble, granite, and soapstone; metals such as brass and pewter; or ceramic clay. These natural materials offer a novel look or feel to the dominoes and can add to the aesthetic of the set. They are typically more expensive than polymer dominoes.