Dominoes Explained

Domino is a type of game or art in which small squares of wood or plastic are arranged to form long lines. When a domino is tipped over, it triggers the next domino in line to tip, and so on, forming patterns and creating chains that have dramatic—and sometimes devastating—consequences. It is the inspiration for the phrase “domino effect,” which describes a chain reaction that starts with one event and leads to many more.

The game originated in Italy and France, and was brought to England by French prisoners toward the end of the 18th century. It is now played all over the world. Dominoes come in a variety of shapes, colors and materials. Some are painted; others feature a smooth surface with black or white pips (dots). They may be made from ivory, bone or ebony and have contrasting colors or inlaid pips to differentiate them from one another. They can be made from polymers, such as styrene, or they can be made of more natural materials such as marble, granite or soapstone.

Physicist Stephen Morris points out that standing a domino upright gives it potential energy based on its position, but as soon as it falls, much of that potential energy converts to kinetic energy, the energy of motion. This energy is transmitted to the next domino, providing the push needed to knock it over. The energy continues traveling from domino to domino until all of them fall.

In the simplest set, players place dominoes on their edges with adjacent pairs touching each other. Each pair has a value, which is indicated by the number of dots or pips on each domino. A domino that has more pips is more valuable than a domino with fewer pips. The first player to place a domino in this way scores, but play can continue even if the opposing partner cannot lay his or her own. Typically, the scoring is done in pairs; if both players cannot lay a domino in one turn, play stops.

Dominoes can also be stacked on top of each other to create complex designs. Artists such as Hevesh create mind-blowing domino setups by following a version of the engineering-design process. They start with a theme or purpose, such as “stunning architecture” or “mind-bending patterns.” They then brainstorm images and words they might want to include in their design.

Whether you are a pantser—writers who do not make detailed outlines of their plot—or a plotter, using the domino image can help you to weed out scenes that don’t have enough logical impact on those that follow them. For example, if your heroine uncovers a clue in a scene that does nothing to raise tension in the next scene, it needs to be reworked.

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