The Science of Domino


Domino, also known as bones, pieces, men, or stones, are small rectangular blocks used in a variety of games to form a chain reaction whereby one domino knocks over another. Typically, each domino features a line down its middle which divides it visually into two squares, with each end bearing a number of spots (also called pips). The most commonly used set of dominoes has one tile for every possible combination of numbers from one to six. Other sets contain more tiles, with some containing up to 190 dominoes.

In addition to being the basis for a variety of strategic games, dominoes are often used for simple puzzles and counting games. The most basic game involves a single player and a double-six set of dominoes. A row of 28 dominoes are shuffled and then placed face down in a pile, referred to as the stock or boneyard. The first player begins by drawing a domino from the stock and placing it on the table, matching its value to that of an existing domino. The players continue to draw and play tiles until one player wins by completing their dominoes, or no player has any more matching values left on their tiles and the game ends.

The science behind the domino phenomenon is fairly straightforward: When a domino is standing upright, it stores energy in its potential energy. When a domino falls, much of that energy is converted into kinetic energy which causes the rest of the dominoes to topple in an orderly fashion. This is why it’s important to have the correct sequence in mind when setting up a domino rally.

Lily Hevesh began playing with dominoes when she was 9 years old, using her grandparents’ classic 28-pack. By age 10, she had started creating her own designs and posting videos of them on YouTube. Now, at 20, she’s a professional domino artist who has created intricate designs for movies, TV shows, and events such as a music video launch for Katy Perry.

Hevesh says that while many people believe the key to a great domino project is creativity, there’s actually a lot of science involved. According to physicist Stephen Morris, when a domino is stood upright, it has potential energy based on its position and when the force of gravity pulls it down, that energy is converted into kinetic energy which sends the dominoes tumbling.

In the case of a domino that is double-blank, the kinetic energy may be a bit more erratic as it depends on the direction in which the other side of the tile is facing. Hevesh says that the biggest challenge when working with large amounts of dominoes is ensuring that all of them are positioned correctly. This is what makes the difference between a successful project and one that takes several nail-biting minutes for each domino to fall.