How Dominoes Work

A domino is a flat, thumb-sized rectangular block of wood or other material bearing from one to six pips or dots (called “suits”). A complete set of dominoes has 28 such tiles. Dominoes are used for a number of games, including positional and scoring games. Most commonly, they are arranged in lines and angular patterns on the table to form blocks or sets. A player scores points by attaching a domino to the ends of those already played in such a way that the sum of the end tiles is divisible by five or three.

Lily Hevesh began collecting and playing with dominoes as a kid, when her grandparents gave her the classic 28-piece set. By the time she was 10, she’d started creating her own intricate domino setups and posting videos of them online. Now, at 20, she’s a professional domino artist, and her YouTube channel has more than 2 million subscribers. Hevesh has worked on projects involving 300,000 dominoes, and her largest setups can take several nail-biting minutes to fall. But it’s not luck that makes her designs so impressive. The reason lies in the laws of physics.

When Hevesh flicks the first domino in her creations, it’s standing right where she placed it. This is because a domino has inertia, a tendency to resist motion when no force is pushing or pulling on it. However, a tiny nudge can overcome this inertia, causing the first domino to fall and start a chain reaction. “The potential energy that was stored in that first domino is converted to kinetic energy when it falls,” explains physicist Stephen Morris. “When that happens, it can push on the next domino, and so on.”

In 2010, Domino’s Pizza CEO Nick Monaghan was tasked with turning around an underperforming company in Ypsilanti, Michigan. One of the key parts of his plan was to focus on listening to customers. This meant making changes at the local level, such as introducing flexible hours and lowering delivery charges, but it also meant embracing technology to create more efficient systems and speed up deliveries.

Doyle focused on bringing Domino’s to new markets. He also pushed for innovation and experimentation, such as using crowd-sourced auto designers to create a purpose-built pizza-delivery vehicle, the DXP, which was described in one article as “the cheese lover’s Batmobile.”

Domino’s continues to innovate in the food business, but it also uses technology to change how customers order (through apps, texting an emoji, or simply by tweeting); monitor their orders; and deliver their pizzas. Domino’s is even experimenting with delivery by drone.

The word domino may come from the Latin for “little one,” and it likely has a similarly obscure origin. Both the game and the term were in common usage by the mid-18th century. The name may also have been influenced by the Italian and French words for cape, because early domino pieces were often made with contrasting colors of ebony blacks and ivory faces, reminiscent of a priest’s cloak over his surplice.