The Art of Dominoes

Dominoes are small, rectangular blocks that are used for a variety of games. Also known as bones, cards, men, or pieces, they usually feature a line in the middle that divides them visually into two squared areas; each end bears an arrangement of dots, called pips, that range from six to none or blank. The sum of the values on either side is referred to as a domino’s rank or weight; a tile with more dots, for example, is “heavier” than one with fewer.

A domino is most often made of wood or plastic, but is also available in metal and other materials. Some sets are arranged in a grid to form pictures or other shapes; others have a rectangular or round shape and are laid flat on the table. Most dominoes are twice as long as they are wide, which makes them easier to re-stack after use.

As a child, Lily Hevesh was fascinated by the classic 28-piece set her grandparents had in their house. She began collecting them at age 9, and by the time she was 11, she had started posting videos of her own domino projects on YouTube. Now 20, she’s a professional domino artist who has created curved lines, grids that form pictures, and 3D structures like towers and pyramids.

Hevesh credits her success to physics, especially the law of gravity. When a domino is stood upright, it stores potential energy from the force of its position; once it falls, that energy is converted to kinetic energy and pushes the next domino toward Earth, causing it to fall. When the first domino topples, it creates a chain reaction that continues until the entire setup is completed.

Although the game’s rules can vary widely, most involve a player placing a domino edge to edge against another in such a way that its identity-bearing face and the adjacent faces match. The ends of a domino are usually labeled with their value, and the highest number is marked with a dot on both its long sides; a double-six has 6 dots on one side and 5 on the other.

Hevesh’s best advice for those who want to play dominoes is to be sure the surface on which you’re playing is smooth, dry and free of debris, and that all players understand and agree upon the rules. She also recommends that players start with a smaller layout so they can work on their skills and develop confidence before moving onto more complex arrangements. For a complete list of tips, check out this video from a professional domino artist.