Dominoes and Other Games

Dominoes are small wood or plastic blocks with one face marked with an arrangement of dots or pips, like those on dice. They are normally twice as long as they are wide, making them easy to re-stack after use. They may also be referred to as bones, cards, men, or pieces. The value of a domino is the number of spots on either end, or its rank. A domino that has more spots is called a heavier or higher piece than a domino with fewer or no spots.

A traditional domino set has 28 unique pieces, a combination of seven suits from zero to six arranged in the pattern of dots on a die. The four suits of numbers correspond to the numbers 1 through 4, with two matching ends forming a pair; each pair is placed edge-to-edge on the domino’s ridged surface to form a chain or web, in which each tile rests on its partner. The shape of the chain develops from a player’s whim or the limitations of the playing surface.

The most common domino sets include double-six and double-nine tiles. They can be used for many games of skill or chance, in which players try to build a chain that will reach the opposite end of the table. Other games require players to position the pieces edge-to-edge so that they make adjacent sides match up, or occupy the same spaces in a row or column.

Some players use the dominoes for art, creating designs that can take minutes to hours to fall when a single domino is tipped ever-so-slightly by another player or by the laws of physics. For example, Hevesh, a YouTube user who calls herself the “Domino Designer,” creates elaborate designs that are part art and part engineering, including tracks for trains and cars, curved lines that form pictures, grids that resemble pictures, and 3D structures like towers and pyramids.

Dominoes also are a favorite prop for movies, such as The Founder and Domino. The term is also used to describe any sequence of actions that cascade in a rhythmic way, as in the scene in The Sound of Music where Maria tilts a Christmas tree ornament and all the other decorations on it tumble over and around her.

The word domino derives from the Latin, dominus (master of the house). It has been used in English since 1750 and in French after 1750 as domine (master of the schoolhouse). Earlier, the word had meant a long hooded cloak worn together with a mask at a masquerade, or a costume consisting of a hooded robe and a small mask. This earlier sense of the word may have influenced the later meanings referring to the hooded robe or mask itself. It also may have inspired the name of a type of monastic hood. It has also been suggested that the word may have a connection to the name of the black ebony domino piece that contrasts with the white surplice of a priest.