What is the Domino Effect?


A domino is a small rectangular block, thumb-sized on one side, and blank or marked with an arrangement of dots or pips resembling those on dice on the other; 28 such blocks make up a complete set. The word is used as a noun to describe the game and its players, and as a verb to indicate action occurring after a domino has been displaced. The pieces are sometimes called bones, cards, tiles, spinners, or tickets. They are often arranged in lines or angular patterns on a flat surface and then knocked over, creating a chain reaction that can be exciting to watch.

For many children, domino is a fun way to pass time. They enjoy building a chain of dominoes, then knocking them over, watching each piece fall into place and cause the next to topple in turn. For adults, the game is just as entertaining and provides a chance to hone strategy skills. In fact, domino is such an important part of our culture that it even has its own day. Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Juan, who wants to know, “What is the domino effect?”

While many people enjoy playing games with dominoes, few understand what makes them so fascinating to observe and play with. While the physics of how they work is complex, there is one key principle that is fundamental to their power: gravity. When a domino is standing upright, it has potential energy, or energy stored based on its position. But when a domino falls, much of this energy is converted into kinetic energy, or energy of motion. This change in energy causes the rest of the dominoes to tumble over as well, creating a chain reaction that can be very impressive.

When playing a game with dominoes, each player draws a hand of seven tiles. The first player to draw a double—a tile with two matching ends, such as 6-6—goes first. The second player can then play a tile to the right or left of the first, leaving open ends on either side. This can continue, with each tile played to a matching end of the previous tile until a full chain forms.

In addition to a traditional wooden set, Domino’s has offered sets made from alternative materials, such as silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory, or dark hardwood such as ebony, with contrasting black or white pips inlaid or painted on the faces. The asymmetrical design of these sets makes them visually appealing, although they are typically more expensive than polymer dominoes. The most common dominoes are made of polymer, which is less expensive and more durable than most other types of materials. Polymer dominoes are molded and colored in one or more colors, which allows them to be produced inexpensively and quickly. They can also be printed with various designs, including the company’s trademark logo. Several companies produce domino sets, but Domino’s remains the largest, with over 200 stores in the United States and internationally.