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The Basics of Dominoes

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A domino (also known as bones, cards, men, pieces or tiles) is a flat thumb-sized rectangular block with one face that is divided visually into two squares. Each square is marked with an arrangement of spots, called pips or dots; 28 such dominoes form a full set. Dominoes may be either blank, numbered or emblazoned with various symbols.

In a game, players place dominoes on the table in long lines. When a domino is tipped over, it triggers the rest of the line to tip in sequence, until the entire row has fallen over. This chain reaction is what gives rise to the phrase “domino effect.” Dominoes are also used as educational tools that can be stacked in a variety of ways to create structures and patterns.

When a domino is tipped, it releases the potential energy stored in its structure. Some of this energy goes to the next domino in line, causing it to tip. This continues until all the dominoes have tipped over, producing an elaborate and sometimes catastrophic sequence.

Dominoes can also be tipped and re-stacked in a variety of ways to make other configurations and structures, including straight lines, parallelograms, triangles, and rhombuses. They can be arranged to demonstrate geometric shapes and relationships, and they can help students develop understanding of the properties of angles. Some teachers use dominoes to introduce the concept of equations and to reinforce basic addition and subtraction concepts.

The word domino comes from the Italian domini, meaning “flip.” A series of flips of a domino can lead to an intricate pattern that is the basis of many different games. Dominoes can also be a valuable tool for teaching about fractions, because they allow students to see how a number of parts can add up to a whole.

A popular variation on the basic game involves laying dominoes end to end so that their exposed ends match. Each time a player makes such a connection, the exposed dominoes are awarded points for the total of their dots. The point system is especially useful in schools to illustrate the fundamentals of counting, adding and subtracting.

Hevesh, who is a professional domino player and runs Domino Data Lab, follows a version of the engineering-design process when creating her mind-blowing domino setups. She considers the theme and purpose of an installation, brainstorms images or words that might be associated with it, then begins to arrange the dominoes. A typical domino show features hundreds of thousands of dominoes, carefully stacked in a precise sequence, all of which fall with the nudge of only one. Dominos can be made of a variety of materials, from bone to silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl) to ivory and ebony. They have a long history of being used as a toy for children. During the Renaissance, they were also used in games to circumvent religious prohibitions on playing cards. They are still used today in a wide range of games, both competitive and cooperative.