How to Design a Domino Setup

Domino is a flat, thumb-sized rectangular block, bearing from one to six pips (or dots) on each of its two faces: 28 such dominoes form a complete set. A domino may be used as a generic gaming piece or it may be used to play a particular game. In a game played with such pieces, each player positions a domino on the table so that its end shows the same number as a particular digit on a domino on the left or right of it. This begins a chain reaction in which each succeeding domino must touch the ends of all preceding dominoes and then be knocked over by the next domino.

The domino is traditionally made of a rigid material such as bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell, ivory or a dark hardwood like ebony with contrasting black or white pips. Other materials such as marble, granite, soapstone or even ceramic clay are also used, but they have a different look and are often more expensive. Historically, wood has been the most popular choice for dominoes because it is inexpensive, easily available and relatively durable. However, recent technology has allowed the manufacturing of dominoes from plastics which are both lightweight and strong.

Hevesh’s grandparents gave her the classic 28-pack when she was 9 and, by 10, she had begun creating domino setups on YouTube. Now 20, Hevesh works professionally as a domino artist, building mind-blowing domino setups for movies, TV shows and events—and has more than 2 million YouTube subscribers. When designing a domino layout, she follows a version of the engineering-design process, starting with a theme or purpose for the design and brainstorming images that could relate to that theme.

As Hevesh creates her layout, she places each domino along its edge so that it rests against or is positioned diagonally across the end of the previous domino. When she tips the first domino ever-so-slightly, much of its potential energy converts to kinetic energy—energy of motion—and pushes on the next domino until it falls over.

While Hevesh’s constructions are breathtaking, the physics behind them is fairly simple. “When you stand a domino upright, it has potential energy stored in its position,” says Stephen Morris, a University of Toronto physicist. When the domino is pushed, that potential energy is converted to kinetic energy, which is transferred to the next domino until it too topples over.

It is this transfer of energy that allows the domino to continue advancing in a cascade until it comes to a stop, typically when all the available pieces have fallen. While this basic principle is the same for all domino games, each has its own unique rules that set it apart from the others. For example, in a game called Draw Dominoes, each player takes turns placing a domino until there are no more to place. Then each player picks up a sleeping domino from the edge of the board and adds it to their own domino set. The player who has the most dominoes at that point wins the game.