When you play domino, you arrange a series of small rectangular blocks on their ends in long lines. Then, you knock over the first one so that it lands on top of all the others, starting a chain reaction that can continue for as long as you want. This simple game has inspired many complex variations, from children’s games to strategic games with elaborate designs and rules. It also has given rise to the term “domino effect,” which describes how one small action can cause a chain of greater-—and sometimes even catastrophic—consequences.
Dominoes have been made of various materials, including bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory and dark hardwoods such as ebony, all with contrasting black or white pips. More recently, a wide variety of plastics and polymer clay have been used to produce these tiles. In some cases, the pips are painted or inlaid onto the surface to create different colors. Historically, domino sets were hand-crafted from natural materials and therefore more expensive than modern sets.
The way in which dominoes are arranged provides a large part of their entertainment value. Each tile has a number on both sides, which is used to identify it. The other side is blank or marked with an arrangement of dots that resemble those on dice. Some games have only one side of the domino show a number, while others display both sides. In some games, the numbers on a domino must match those on adjacent tiles to form an unbroken chain of alternating color or number.
Most domino games are played by taking turns placing a tile on the table, positioning it so that its end touches an end of a previous tile on the table. Then, additional tiles are added to the ends of the chains as needed until the entire set has been played. Doubles can be placed either across or diagonally to an existing tile, and the shape of the chains develops according to the whims of players and limitations of the playing surface.
In many games, the player who plays a tile that shows a number on both ends of the chain earns points. The players who earn the most points after a set number of rounds win the game. The number of points scored may be determined by the total number of pips on each opponent’s tiles or by counting certain types of doubles differently (e.g., a 6-6 counts as both 1 and 6).
Dominoes are often used in classrooms to teach students math, geometry, science and social studies. They are also a popular game for parties, as they can be enjoyed by people of all ages. The game is a good teaching tool for showing students how one event can lead to much larger consequences, just like how the fall of one domino can initiate a chain reaction that continues for as long as the dominoes are left standing.