The Science of Dominoes


Dominoes are a game played with 28 tiles, normally referred to as bones or pieces, that are arranged on the table in pairs. They are typically twice as long as they are wide, and each tile has two values. These are called “pips” or “spots.” In the most common variant, double-six, the pips range from six to none (or blank).

Domino variants vary in number of spots per end, and many are “extended” by adding a third value to an existing set of tiles. For example, a standard domino set is double-six (28 tiles), but there are also extended sets with triple-nine (55 tiles) or quad-six (91 tiles) and some with even larger numbers of spots.

When a player plays a tile, they must position it so that it is adjacent to a matching domino on one side or the other. If the match does not exist, they may take a sleeping tile from the board and play it against the matching domino.

If the matched domino is on one of the ends, the player is said to have “stitched up” that end. They must not be able to play the next two tiles against it. This is a strategy to prevent the opponents from winning the game.

The “domino effect” refers to the way that an action leads to a series of events that are often much greater than the initial act. The chain reaction starts with the first domino in a series and works its way to the last, until it ultimately falls.

According to physicist Stephen Morris, the reason for this is that standing a domino upright gives it potential energy, and as the domino falls, much of that energy converts to kinetic energy, or energy of motion. The kinetic energy is then transferred to the next domino, causing it to fall. This cycle continues, until all of the dominoes in the series have fallen and are tipped over.

There is a great deal of science behind the creation of Hevesh’s mind-blowing domino setups. She follows a process she calls the “engineering-design process.”

Before starting an installation, Hevesh considers the theme or purpose of her work. She then brainstorms images or words she might want to use in her design.

In her most elaborate installations, Hevesh uses a variety of materials. She has created displays using hundreds of thousands of dominoes, including a Guinness World Record for the most dominoes toppled in a circular arrangement: 76,017.

Her projects involve a huge array of tools, including a drill press, radial arm saw, scroll saw, belt sander and welder. But she says that the main thing that makes her projects possible is gravity.

Hevesh explains that the force of gravity is essential to her work. She can’t create her most intricate setups without a strong pull of gravity on the dominoes.