The Science Behind Dominoes

When you think of domino, you probably imagine the classic 28-piece set that many children grow up with. But there’s a lot more to the game than simply stacking up blocks on end in long lines and flicking them over one by one. It’s a complex game with numerous variations, and the ability to create very intricate designs. It’s also an excellent way to teach kids about science and math.

Dominoes are small square or rectangular wood or plastic blocks, each marked with pips resembling those on dice. A domino can be tipped over and triggers a chain reaction that eventually leads to all of the other tiles falling over. This is what’s known as the domino effect. The term is also used to describe a series of events that lead to catastrophic consequences, such as an earthquake or a stock market crash.

The first dominoes were likely invented in Italy and France in the mid-18th century. In the early 19th century, people began playing games with them in England and America. These games were called “positional” because each player placed a domino edge to edge with another in order to form some specified total.

Today, dominoes are widely available in sets of all different shapes and sizes. They can be bought in most discount stores and are also commonly found online. There are even specialized domino websites, where players can buy customized pieces and build unique setups.

Creating a domino setup requires a great deal of planning and practice. The simplest setups can take only a few minutes to fall, but Hevesh’s larger works can take several nail-biting hours to complete. Hevesh is a professional domino artist who has created spectacular displays for movies, TV shows, and events—including an album launch for Katy Perry.

As a physics teacher, Hevesh has been fascinated by the physical phenomenon behind her art for years. She has analyzed how the various forces of gravity affect the behavior of her setups, and she uses these insights to create even more amazing creations. The key is in the energy transformation that occurs when a domino falls. Standing a domino upright gives it potential energy, which is the stored energy based on its position. When the domino falls, much of this energy converts to kinetic energy, which is the energy of motion.

Most domino games involve emptying your hand while blocking opponents’ play. Scoring methods vary, but most include counting the number of pips in losing players’ hands at the end of the hand or game. Sometimes, players agree to count only one of the ends of a double when considering the total. Other times, they count both ends of a double. This variation is sometimes called the “bergen” or “muggins” rule, and it can dramatically alter a game’s outcome.