Dominoes are a favorite pastime for many people. Whether you’re simply lining up a row of dominoes and flicking them over, or creating intricate patterns to watch fall, this fun and versatile game has been around for centuries. But what exactly is a domino? And what makes it so easy to topple one domino after another?
A domino is a small rectangular wood or plastic block that features an arrangement of dots on one side, and is blank or identically patterned on the other. The domino is divided visually into two squares, each of which bears a number, known as pips, that correspond to the values assigned to each end. The domino may also feature a line down its middle, separating the two sides into distinct values and allowing for easy stacking.
Unlike playing cards, which are typically divided into suits of thirteen different symbols, each face on a domino contains an identical pattern of spots (also called pips) in varying numbers and colors, from six pips to none at all. The pips are used to identify the domino, as well as to determine its value when matched with other dominoes. The most common sets of dominoes available are double-six and double-nine, although larger sets are often used for games involving more than two players.
The word domino, like the game itself, has a somewhat obscure history. The word appears to have been coined in France shortly after 1750, though it had earlier denoted a long hooded cloak worn together with a mask at carnival season or during a masquerade. The name may have also been derived from the Italian verb dominar, meaning “to dominate.”
In 1955, Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan began opening locations in the Ypsilanti area of Michigan, focusing on putting his chain near college campuses to appeal to students who craved fast and affordable food. Over the next few decades, Domino’s continued to grow, eventually becoming the largest pizza franchise in the world. Today, the company continues to push innovation in its operations, including a new app that allows customers to order pizza by texting or speaking to their smart devices.
Whether you’re simply stacking dominoes up and knocking them over, or creating elaborate patterns to watch fall, this fun and versatile toy is loved by millions of people around the globe. And the science behind it is quite fascinating.
Physicist Stephen Morris explains that when a domino stands upright, it stores potential energy in the form of its position and shape. But when you flip a domino over, that potential energy is converted to kinetic energy, which then triggers a chain reaction as domino after domino falls. The simple act of flipping a domino over creates a complex and beautiful display — but the same principle applies to other everyday actions, such as making your bed or tidying up your house. The result is a domino effect: once you start doing something consistently, it’s easy to develop the habit of continuing that behavior.