The Art of Domino


Domino, a small rectangular tile with pips (or marks) on all sides, is a popular game played by millions of people. When set up in careful sequence, dominoes create lines that can reach hundreds of thousands of tiles before the chain finally reaches its end—often with the slightest nudge from one domino. Many domino players compete in “domino shows,” where they build the most spectacular domino effects or reactions before a crowd of fans. While the mechanics of a domino show can be complicated, the basic idea behind the games is very simple: A domino is placed in front of each player and he or she must play a tile so that it touches the two matching ends of the adjacent dominoes (or doubles) without being positioned in between them. When playing with a domino set, the rules vary from game to game. For example, the heaviest domino in a player’s hand must be played first. Other games require a player to draw new hands if there is a tie.

Most modern domino sets are made of polymer, but sets in other materials have been produced, including bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (“mother of pearl” or MOP), ivory, ebony, and dark hardwoods such as walnut and mahogany. Some dominoes are also molded of ceramic clay or iced glass. Some sets have a mix of different material types, with the upper half in MOP or ivory and the lower half in ebony.

A large portion of the fun in domino is watching the dominoes fall. As each one is toppled, much of its potential energy is converted to kinetic energy—energy in motion—and some of it passes to the next domino. This energy travels down the line until all the dominoes have fallen, creating a fascinating and often mesmerizing display.

As a child, Hevesh loved setting up a domino in a straight or curved line and then flicking the first domino to watch the whole line fall. In her adult years, she’s become a professional domino artist and has created mind-blowing installations. The largest of her designs take several nail-biting minutes to fall, and she has worked on team projects involving 300,000 dominoes.

Hevesh says that the key to a great domino setup is understanding how physics works. For example, gravity pulls a falling domino toward the ground, which in turn pushes the next domino down. Then the energy is transmitted to the next domino in the line—and so on until all the dominoes have fallen.

While a domino show is entertaining, the most exciting thing to do with dominoes is set them up on your own and watch them fall. This is similar to the process of composing a story. Whether you write off the cuff or spend time outlining your manuscript, your final novel will eventually come down to the same question: What happens next? If you can think of your story as a chain of dominoes, it may help you figure out the best way to build up your narrative and keep readers engaged.