How to Design a Domino Game


Domino is a game played with a set of square tiles that can be stacked on end in long rows. They have pips, or dots, that indicate their value and suit. The most common domino sets have 28 tiles but larger ones exist for more advanced games. Generally, a domino can be matched only with another tile that features the same number of pips on both sides. When this occurs, the two tiles become a pair or “suit.”

If you play a domino game with a partner, each of you takes turns playing a tile. After a player plays one of their tiles, they “knock,” or rap, the table and pass play to their partner. The players continue to take turns until either one player wins by playing all of their remaining dominoes or the number of dominoes left on the table is zero and play ends. Some variants of the game are adaptations of card games that were once popular in certain areas to circumvent religious prohibitions against using cards.

The word domino is an Italian word, derived from the Latin dominus. It means lord or master and was adopted by the French as domino, and later into English as Dominico. Its meaning has also shifted slightly over time: in the 16th century, it was used as the name of a type of monastic hood; it later referred to a black and white hooded mask worn by Christian priests and later still to one of the tiles in a domino set.

A domino effect is a series of events that build on each other and result in greater effects. For example, a fire could lead to more fires in a home or a company policy change could result in employees leaving and a loss of revenue. In fiction, a scene domino might be each point to illustrate a theme or statement and in nonfiction, it might be each item needed to advance an argument.

Before Hevesh knocks over one of her mind-blowing domino setups, she considers its theme or purpose and brainstorms images she might want to use in the design. She then follows a version of the engineering-design process, where she creates a prototype and tests it to see how it works.

Hevesh has created dominoes for movies, TV shows, and events, including an album launch for pop star Katy Perry. She has built installations involving hundreds of thousands of dominoes and has even set a Guinness record for a circular arrangement, with 76,017 dominoes. Her largest domino setups can take several nail-biting minutes to fall.

When Hevesh makes her designs, she knows that each domino has its own inertia, or the tendency to resist motion unless an outside force is applied. When she gives a domino the nudge it needs, its potential energy converts to kinetic energy, or energy of motion, and some of that kinetic energy is transferred to the next domino, providing the push it requires. This energy travels from domino to domino until the entire structure topples over.