The Physics of Domino

Domino is a game in which players place dominoes on the table, one by one. When one domino is knocked over it sets off a chain reaction that eventually leads to all the other dominoes falling. The physics behind the game is quite interesting, and it shows how energy can be transformed from potential to kinetic.

Physicist Stephen Morris, who studies dominoes for fun, says that when you set up an entire row of dominoes, they have potential energy, or stored energy based on their position. Once you knock over the first one, however, much of that potential energy is converted to kinetic energy—the energy of motion. “All the forces that were holding the domino upright suddenly become acting on it,” he says.

A domino is a tile that features an arrangement of numbers, called spots, on each of its four sides. Each spot corresponds to a number between one and six. The other side of the tile is blank or identically patterned. When a domino is flipped over, the spots face up, and the blank or matching side faces down. Dominoes come in various shapes and sizes, but the most common are double-six and double-nine tiles. Larger sets are available, but they are used only in games that involve multiple players and require more than just the standard two-sided dominoes.

When playing domino, the first player (determined either by drawing lots or by who holds the heaviest hand) places the first tile on the table. Then, the other players draw their tiles and then place them on-edge before them, so that they can see the values of their own dominoes but not those of other players. Some people choose to make the blank sides of their dominoes “wild,” so that they can ascribe any value to them.

As the players continue to play dominoes, the shape of the line develops at random, depending on the whims of the players and limitations of their playing surface. The line often forms a snake-like shape. But if the players are playing to a double, the domino must be placed so that the matching ends touch fully.

Whether you’re an expert at domino or just starting out, it can be helpful to think of every plot beat in your book as a domino. It might sound overly simplistic, but this is a good way to keep the story moving along at a steady pace. And when you’re done, you should have a novel that’s ready to be read. Just be careful not to trip up any legal or social dominoes in the process. That could have some serious consequences.