Dominoes are black and white rectangular pieces that feature a line down the middle, visually dividing it into two squares. The domino’s ends are either blank or patterned with a number of spots, called pips, similar to those on a die. They can be used in a wide variety of games. Some are positional, in which a domino is placed edge to edge against another, forming some kind of total. Other games involve domino chains, in which a player places dominoes one by one until the whole sequence is completed.
Most people are familiar with the simple game of lining up dominoes in long rows and then knocking them over. However, there are also some very complex domino sets that can take hours to set up and a skilled domino artist can create intricate designs with thousands of dominoes. These creations are based on the principles of physics, and there is one physical phenomenon in particular that makes them possible: gravity.
This WONDER explores the science behind dominoes, from the physical forces that cause them to topple, to the mathematical concepts that can be used to describe their behavior. It also introduces the concept of the “domino effect,” in which one event can have a disproportionate impact on a larger system.
The word domino has a relatively recent history, appearing in both English and French shortly after 1750. Its origin is a bit unclear, but it may have been derived from a garment of the same name, which earlier denoted a long, hooded cloak worn by a priest over his surplice at a carnival or masquerade ball. The garment may have inspired the name because of its resemblance to a set of dominoes, which would be easily visible beneath the cloak.
In the modern sense of the word, domino is a generic gaming device. It is often compared to playing cards or dice in that it can be used to play a variety of different games. Traditional domino sets have one unique piece for each combination of numbers from one to six, with the highest-valued tiles having six spots on each end. Dominoes can be extended by introducing more pips on the ends of existing tiles, increasing the amount of possible combinations. The most common extended dominoes are double-nine, double-12, and double-18, with the latter having 190 tiles.
The most complex dominoes require more than just a skillful craftsman. They also rely on the laws of physics to work, and it is important that each one be properly positioned before starting the chain reaction. That’s why expert domino artists use precise measurements and the help of computer software programs. They also understand that the key to success is to focus on one task at a time, making sure it is fully complete before moving on to the next. This is how you can achieve the greatest domino effect. It’s a concept that can be applied to any large project, whether it is a business or a complex engineering undertaking.