The Domino Effect


A domino is a small rectangular block of wood or plastic, typically thumb-sized and marked on one side with an arrangement of dots resembling those on dice. The other side of the domino is blank or identically patterned. Each domino is a component of a game of chance, in which players try to win by laying adjacent pieces end to end and scoring the total number of points on both ends. The term “domino” also applies to the game’s sets and to any of several games played with them, including poker, backgammon, cribbage, and solitaire.

A Domino Effect

Physicists are intrigued by dominoes because they demonstrate the power of gravity to create an endless chain reaction, in which a single domino triggers other, subsequent events. This law of gravity is also a crucial element of the success of a pizza delivery business such as Domino’s. The chain has grown from its humble beginnings in Ypsilanti, Michigan to over 26,000 locations nationwide. Domino’s success is due to a variety of factors, but one key is its focus on delivering pizza quickly.

Domino games were first introduced to Britain in the 18th Century, possibly through French prisoners of war who brought them with them. The word “domino” is probably derived from the Latin dominus, meaning master of the house. The domino game became a popular fad, and by the early 19th Century, the first domino puzzles were being produced. These were of two types, in which the gamer was asked to place tiles so that their ends matched, and in which they placed them based on arithmetic properties of the pips.

In the late 20th Century, the art of designing and building elaborate domino structures began to be dominated by professional competitors. This competition was fueled by the development of computer software programs that allowed users to create intricate patterns and layouts for their domino projects. This new technology was particularly beneficial to those interested in building dominoes that could be used for advertising and promotional purposes.

When Nick Nicolson of the UK developed his domino design program, he sought to make the designs easily reproducible using ordinary household tools. His goal was to develop a system that was simple enough for amateur craftsman to follow, yet complex and detailed enough to command respect for the crafter’s skill. Nick used his grandmother’s garage as a workshop and created a system that included a drill press, radial arm saw, scroll saw, belt sander, and welder.

The art of domino creation is a fascinating study in engineering-design principles. Whenever Hevesh creates a mind-blowing domino set, she follows a version of the engineering-design process that is similar to how many engineers design buildings and other large projects. She starts by considering the theme or purpose of the installation, then brainstorms images or words she might want to use. She then creates a drawing of the domino layout, and finally builds it in layers. Each layer must be crafted so that it can support the weight of the next. The final domino must be stable, and the whole structure must be able to resist an external force, such as a blow or a knock.