The Domino Effect


When we think of domino, we usually imagine a line of unstoppable, rhythmic action. But the truth is, that is only a small part of what domino is about. The real magic happens in the chain reaction that occurs when one domino triggers a series of other actions, just like in a Rube Goldberg machine. This is what gives us those amazing scenes we all love, where a simple nudge causes thousands of dominoes to fall in a cascade. This is what is known as the Domino Effect, and it’s a fascinating scientific phenomenon.

Each domino is a rectangular tile, with identifying marks on one end and blank or identically patterned faces on the other. The identifying marks are often a pattern of spots, similar to those on dice, but some pieces have no dots at all (the blank ends are called “no spots”). In the traditional set of 28 dominoes, there is one unique piece for each possible combination of two end-markings: a single spot, two dots, three spots, four spots, five spots, six spots, and seven spots. This set, called a double-six set, is the most common type of domino.

Before a hand of domino begins, the tiles are shuffled and placed in a pile on the table, where they are known as the boneyard. A player then chooses the highest domino in his or her hand and starts the domino chain by playing it. Each additional domino must be played so that it straddles the end of the tile it is being played to, and this arrangement of connecting sides forms a chain that grows outward in snake-line fashion according to the rules of a particular game.

The first domino that falls is pushed by the potential energy stored in it, and as each subsequent domino is nudged, more of that energy becomes kinetic, or the energy of motion. This energy is transmitted from the top of the domino to the next, pushing it along its way until it eventually tips over itself. This process continues until the last domino is nudged and the domino chain collapses.

When Hevesh designs her mind-blowing domino installations, she follows a version of the engineering-design process, making test versions and filming them in slow motion to ensure that each section works correctly. She also creates a schematic of the entire design, including flat arrangements and 3-D structures that form curved lines or images, and she calculates how many dominoes will be needed.

This same kind of systematic approach can help a writer construct an exciting story. When writing a novel, whether it is an adventure or a romance, each scene should be viewed as a domino, and each domino in turn should lead to the next. The excitement in a novel comes not from the actual physical action, but from the way that each event is set up to influence the events that follow. This is why plotting a novel is often described as being like putting down a row of dominoes.