How Do Dominoes Work?

Dominoes have long been a popular game for children and adults alike. They can be arranged in straight or curved lines, into grids that form pictures, or even 3D structures like towers and pyramids. Creating these setups takes careful planning and patience, but when it comes time to flick that first domino and watch the entire chain fall, there is nothing quite like it. When Lily Hevesh started playing with dominoes as a child, she loved setting up the pieces in a line and watching them tumble over one after the other. Now, at 20, she’s a professional domino artist and creator of a popular YouTube channel that shows off her mind-blowing setups. Hevesh’s projects have a huge following, and she has even created domino setups for movies, TV shows, and events—including a Katy Perry album launch.

But how exactly do these amazing creations work? According to physicist Stephen Morris, the key is gravity. When a domino is standing upright, it has potential energy—that is, it has stored energy in its position. But as soon as you knock it over, some of that energy is converted to kinetic energy—that is, the energy of motion—and some of that energy is transmitted to the next domino in the chain. This process continues, and eventually all the dominoes will fall.

There are a variety of ways to play domino, but the most common involves positioning a domino edge to edge against another such that both touching ends show the same number (i.e., a domino with a number on one end and a number on the other is known as a double). These pieces are then scored by counting the total of all the exposed dots across all the adjacent sides of the two matching tiles. There are also a number of games that allow players to win by laying tiles in such a way that the exposed ends match (i.e., one’s touch one’s and two’s touch each other).

A popular variant of this is called a Concentration game, adapted from card games and played to circumvent religious proscriptions against playing cards. There are many other types of domino games, including ones that can be played with a single tile such as a double-six (the heaviest of all domino values). Larger sets of dominoes—called extended sets—are often used in competitions and exhibitions. These larger sets have more than the standard set of 28 tiles, and may include a double-nine, a double-twelve, and even a double-18. These extended sets are often marked with different colors or shapes, and are used to provide a challenge to players who have become familiar with the smaller set of dominoes. These more complex games can also involve a number of rules and scoring systems. But regardless of the complexity of the game, a basic rule is that every player must place a tile before any other player can begin to score points. This helps prevent the occurrence of “dominoing,” where one player can completely dominate the other, preventing him from scoring any points at all.