The Rules of Domino


Domino, a game in which players place tiles to form a chain or row of adjacent squares, is a simple yet profoundly complex pastime. Its complexities are heightened by the rules that govern how the pieces must fit together and the ways in which each tile can be played. Whether you’re trying to build a long line of dominoes, set up a grid that forms a picture when it falls, or create a 3D structure, the rules that govern this simple game provide a small glimpse into how the laws of physics work.

Domino is played with a set of small, rectangular tiles that each feature a number of pips on one side and are blank or identically patterned on the other. Most commercially available domino sets include a double six (28 tiles) and a double nine (55 tiles). Larger sets are sometimes used for games with more than two players or to form longer chains.

When a domino is placed, its matching sides must touch each other fully. Then, each domino in the chain can be played in a certain way to change the shape of the line or the direction in which it falls. This makes the chain develop its own tangled, snake-like form. Depending on the rules you’re following, the pieces may also have to be played in a specific direction or in a particular way that allows for an even flow of energy through the chain.

Creating mind-blowing domino setups takes time, effort, and the right materials. Lily Hevesh, a professional domino artist who has worked on projects involving 300,000 dominoes and helped set a Guinness record for the most dominoes toppled in a circular arrangement, explains that each piece needs to be perfectly aligned with its surroundings and carefully positioned so it can move freely without interference from the other pieces. But one key force is gravity, which pulls a fallen domino toward the ground and can send it crashing into the next tile in a domino line.

While some people may play domino strictly for fun, many others use it to hone their mental skills. The rules of the game are straightforward, but the process of analyzing a layout and finding the best way to set up the dominoes and the best sequence to play them can help improve your ability to concentrate and plan.

Hevesh uses the engineering-design process to craft her creations, which range from straight or curved lines to 3D structures like towers and pyramids. She starts by considering a theme or purpose and brainstorming images and words that might be relevant. She then creates a diagram to plan out her design before she starts constructing the dominoes. Her designs are meticulous, with arrows pointing to the way she would like the dominoes to fall. Once she has completed the layout, she begins the nail-biting process of letting gravity do its work.