Dominoes As a Metaphor for Life

When we hear the word domino, we probably think of the popular game played with a large set of rectangular blocks. Each piece has a number of dots or spots that are arranged in rows or columns. Two or more tiles bearing the same number must be positioned side-by-side so that their ends meet to create an unbroken line of one-to-one matching pairs. The most basic domino set consists of 28 tiles that are shuffled and then drawn from the stock, also known as the boneyard, to form each player’s hand. The players then compete to play the tiles in a sequence that leads to scoring points.

Most people are familiar with the satisfaction that comes from watching a long chain of dominoes fall down until every single tile has fallen in a neat row on a table or floor. Whether we’re enjoying a domino rally on television or playing the game with friends, the satisfying result of a well-played sequence of tiles is a reminder that small steps in a positive direction can lead to great accomplishments. This is a lesson that is useful for any endeavor, from setting a new habit to reaching the top of Mount Everest.

Using dominoes as a metaphor for life, author Lily Hevesh has compared a writer’s scene to the pieces of a domino installation. She begins each project by considering a theme or purpose for the display. Then she brainstorms images or words that fit that purpose, and finally she plans out how the dominoes will be arranged. Hevesh is a master at creating intricate domino installations, including grids that form pictures or walls and 3-D structures like towers. Some of her displays take several nail-biting minutes to complete.

Like dominoes, our lives can be like a series of carefully arranged dominoes — each with its own tipping point. As University of Toronto physicist Stephen Morris explains in this video, “A domino has inertia, so it will resist motion until some force acts on it. Even a very small push, like the weight of a domino, is enough to break its inertia and trigger a reaction.”

Hevesh uses fractions to determine how many pieces she needs for her projects. She might need a line of dominoes 24 inches long and will want the tiles to be spaced 1 3/4 inches apart from one another. She calculates the total length of the dominoes needed for each section by dividing the number by the distance between the center of the first tile and the front edge of the second.

Dominoes have a long history as a pastime and as a symbol of social bonding. The game connects people across cultural and language barriers, demonstrating our common humanity. Whether they’re being played in bustling city squares or quiet village homes, dominoes are a testament to our innate desire to interact with others and share the joy of accomplishment.