A Beginner’s Guide to Dominoes

Lily Hevesh began playing with her grandparents’ classic 28-piece set of dominoes when she was 9. By age 11, she had begun posting videos of her mind-blowing domino setups on YouTube. She’s now a professional domino artist who creates stunning setups for movies, TV shows, and events. Her YouTube channel, Hevesh5, has more than 2 million subscribers.

A domino is a small, rectangular wood or plastic block with an arrangement of dots, like those on dice, on one side and blank or slightly differently patterned on the other. It is normally twice as long as it is wide, making it easy to stack it vertically. The domino’s identifying marks are called “pips.” Each pips has a value of either zero, one, two, three, four, or five. The pips are raised to prevent accidental contact and can be wiped clean by a damp cloth.

Most of the popular domino games involve laying one domino tile edge to edge against another, so that their exposed ends match: e.g., a double-six touches a six-six or a seven-six (depending on the game). Then, each player places his or her own tiles in a line that matches one of the matching ends of the initial tile. If all of the players’ tiles add up to a certain multiple, such as five, then that player wins the game.

The original domino sets were designed to represent each of the 21 possible combinations of two thrown dice and thus did not have blank faces. Since the mid-18th century, however, more and more sets have been developed that include one or more types of alternating numbered and blank faces. Some are even double-sided.

In addition, a number of different materials are used to make dominoes. Some sets are made of polymer, a type of plastic. Others are made of natural materials such as bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother-of-pearl or MOP), ivory, or dark hardwoods such as ebony, with contrasting white or black pips inlaid or painted on them. Still others are ceramic clay.

Whether you compose your novel off the cuff or use a formal outline, the process of plotting a story comes down to one question: What happens next? Thinking of each plot beat as a domino can help you answer that question in a compelling way.

When a domino is tipped over, most of its potential energy converts to kinetic energy, the energy of motion. Some of that energy is transferred to the next domino, providing the push it needs to fall over. This energy continues to travel to the rest of the dominoes, until they all fall.

A domino is much more powerful than you might think. In fact, in a 1983 experiment, University of British Columbia physicist Lorne Whitehead showed that a 13-domino chain can actually knock down something one-and-a-half times its own size. This is because the chains form a loop of dominoes that acts as an oscillator and generates a force that overcomes the friction between the individual pieces.