How Dominoes Are Played

A domino is a small rectangular wood or plastic block marked with dots or blanks that resemble those on dice. It is normally twice as long as wide and can have either one or two ends. A domino’s value is determined by the number of spots or pips on either side of the middle line; this total is called the “rank” of the piece. Typically, the more pips a domino has, the higher its rank. Dominoes may also be referred to as bones, cards, men or tiles. Dominoes are used to play a variety of games, most of which involve placing a tile edge-to-edge against another in such a way that its adjacent faces match in some fashion, forming a chain or pattern.

Lily Hevesh began playing with her family’s classic 28-piece set when she was 9 years old. Now, she is a professional domino artist who creates spectacular domino installations for movies and events. Hevesh begins each installation with a clear idea of the purpose and theme, then brainstorms images or words that might inspire her to build something spectacular. She tests each section of an installation by putting it up on a table, and then films the test in slow motion to check that everything is working properly.

Hevesh builds her installations by starting with the largest 3-D sections first, then adding flat arrangements. She usually places each tile carefully so that its matching end will connect to part of the previous tile, thereby creating an open line for other players to add their own tiles. If a tile is played to a double, it must be laid perpendicular to the double touching at its center.

As each domino is pushed onto its spot, it converts some of its potential energy to kinetic energy, which provides the force needed to knock over the next domino. The chain continues in this way until the last domino falls.

The word domino itself probably comes from an earlier sense of the term, which referred to a long, hooded robe worn together with a mask at a carnival or masquerade. In English and French, domino also denoted a large cape worn by a priest over his surplice.

The most common and simple domino game involves placing a single tile on the table and then laying additional tiles until the initial tile becomes surrounded on all sides by the other players’ pieces. The winner is the player who wins the most rounds of the game by scoring a predetermined amount of points. Points are awarded for each pair of matching dominoes, or for each square or tally of the opposing players’ remaining tiles that have a common value (e.g., sixes). The game can also be won by a single player who chips out all of his or her own tiles before the other players have done so. Depending on the game, some games require that all players chip out before continuing.