The Many Uses of Domino

When we think of domino, we might imagine a series of pieces that are stacked on end in long lines. When one is tipped over, it causes the next domino to fall and the rest of the set follows suit in a cascade of rhythmic movement. Some children enjoy lining up dominoes in straight or curved rows and then flicking them over, but others prefer to play games with the pieces.

Dominoes are rectangular blocks, typically made of wood or cardboard, with identifying markings on one side and blank or identically patterned on the other. They are often marked with an arrangement of dots, similar to the spots on a die. In addition to the classic 28-piece set, many variations are available in various sizes, shapes and materials.

While there are many ways to use domino, most people know them for the games they can play with them. A variety of games are played with domino, including blocking (such as bergen and muggins) and scoring (such as Mexican train). There are also several types of drawing games, such as draw and go.

Some of the most interesting uses of domino are found outside of gaming. The pieces are sometimes used to model the function of nerve cells, or neurons. A domino model offers a simple but accurate description of the way a neuron works. The “domino effect” occurs when a nerve impulse travels down the axon of a cell and triggers other cells to fire, causing an overall response that results in a change in the cell’s environment.

Lily Hevesh grew up with her grandparents’ classic 28-piece set of dominoes and has been fascinated by them ever since. Now she is a professional domino artist, creating stunning domino installations for movies, TV shows and events such as the album launch for Katy Perry. Hevesh says that while there are a lot of elements to consider when setting up a domino display, the most important factor is gravity. When she knocks over a massive line of dominoes, the force of gravity pulls each piece toward Earth, sending them crashing into the next in a chain reaction.

Hevesh and other domino artists rely on gravity to create their incredible setups, but the principles of physics are at work in all domino sets. When standing upright, a domino has potential energy, or stored energy based on its position. But when tipped over, this energy converts to kinetic energy, or the energy of motion. That motion causes each domino to push the next domino over, and the cycle continues.