How Do Dominoes Work?

Domino is a small rectangular block, typically wood or plastic, that has one identifying mark on its face and is blank or identically patterned on the other. It is also known as a dominoe or dominos (as with the game). Dominoes may be used to build structures of increasing complexity, such as pyramids or pillars. They can also be arranged to form lines, shapes, or letters, and played in many different games. The most common are blocking and scoring games, but some have no rules and involve trick-taking or chance.

When a domino is stood upright, it stores potential energy based on its position. But once it falls, much of that energy converts to kinetic energy—the energy of motion—and is transferred to the next domino. This transfer of energy is what causes domino after domino to fall, creating a chain reaction.

Physicist Stephen Morris agrees: “Stopping up a domino and allowing it to fall puts some energy into the system—the energy of its position.” When you push on the top of a falling domino, that force is converted into heat and sound. This process, called friction, is what allows you to feel the vibrations of a domino rumble through your hand as it falls.

Like dominoes, friction is necessary for a lot of other physical phenomena, including earthquakes and lightning strikes. But friction has a negative side: It can cause burns and other injuries if you touch it too hard.

Hevesh has a passion for making mind-blowing domino setups, which she describes as “art installations.” She follows a version of the engineering-design process, starting with a theme or purpose, then brainstorming images or words that might work well in her installation. Then she starts laying out dominoes.

When she’s finished arranging a new domino setup, Hevesh checks the pattern to make sure everything is lined up properly. She then takes a picture of the completed setup for reference. She uses this image when building her next creation.

Dominoes can be used to play a variety of blocking and scoring games, and they are also popular with people who want to test their skills at chance. Some types of dominoes are even engraved with a set of numbers that can be used to calculate the odds of winning.

In the world of business, the domino effect is a theory that suggests that changes to one behavior can trigger shifts in related behaviors. For example, when someone chooses to spend less time on sedentary leisure activities, they might start exercising more and eating less fat, and those changes could have far-reaching effects.

At Domino’s, a company that prides itself on providing fast, reliable pizza delivery, this type of chain reaction can be seen in the way it uses technology to help customers order their pizzas. When the company first started out, founder Tom Monaghan emphasized the importance of listening to customers and putting locations near colleges—a strategy that helped it gain traction and became a key driver of its initial growth.