Dominoes and the Domino Effect


When we hear the word domino, we often think of the awe-inspiring sight of a large, rectangular block of wood or other material, with one end either blank or bearing a number of spots, called pips. These pips indicate the value of the piece. The highest value piece, in a typical domino set, has six pips. Dominoes are used in many different games.

When a player plays a domino, it causes the other players to play a tile that has the same value as that played by the first. This creates a chain of tiles that grows and builds upon itself. When a domino chain is complete, it is called a “brick wall.”

In addition to the traditional blocking and scoring games, there are several other game variations using the pieces, including solitaire and trick-taking. These types of games were popular in some areas to circumvent religious prohibitions against playing cards.

There is even a form of domino art, where the artist creates a track or grid that, when fallen, forms pictures or other geometric shapes. A renowned domino artist, Sheila Hevesh, has created incredible designs that take several nail-biting minutes to fall. She credits her success to the laws of physics, especially the force of gravity that pulls a knocked-over domino down on top of the next domino in a line or a pattern.

Like domino, the term “domino effect” refers to any action that causes something else to happen. For example, if our soccer team wins a big game against their biggest rivals, that may lead to more wins and a state championship. Or, if our student sees their hard work pay off, it may lead to more effort and greater results in future courses. These are examples of the “domino effect.”

The same principle applies to scenes in stories. A writer must carefully space scenes so that they advance the story and don’t feel too long (heavy with details or minutiae) or too short (not enough impact at a key plot point). The goal is for the reader to move forward quickly, to want to read the next scene to see what happens next.

The first time a person saw a domino, it was probably as an elaborate construction made out of wood or another material. However, the most common dominoes are plastic or composite. These are often manufactured in China or Hong Kong. The traditional European-style dominoes are often made from bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory, or a dark hardwood such as ebony, with contrasting black or white pips inlaid or painted on each. Some sets include pieces with both the high and low values, allowing for more complex games to be played. Other games require that all the dominoes have matching numbers on both ends of the piece. Larger sets have one domino for each possible combination of one to six pips.