The Domino Effect

The domino effect is a principle that explains how a small, seemingly insignificant act can trigger a chain reaction with surprising consequences. For example, if a person makes his bed four days in a row, this simple action can prompt other tasks that may seem unrelated. These tasks could include cleaning out the Tupperware cupboard or reorganizing the T-shirts in the closet. Likewise, if Hevesh successfully completes her mind-blowing domino setups, she might find herself making her bed again the next day or even cleaning the house.

Dominoes are small, flat rectangular blocks that are used as gaming pieces. They are made of rigid material, such as wood or bone, and often have an identifying mark on one face and are blank or identically patterned on the other. The identifying mark may be lines or spots, like those on a die, or a ridge that separates the two faces into sections marked with an arrangement of dots, called pip marks. Dominoes are also known as bones, men, stones, or cards. The earliest Western dominoes appeared in the mid-18th century.

Western dominoes are most commonly used for playing positional games in which players place a domino edge to edge against another to form a chain of consecutive numbers or to form some other specified total. The first player to play a tile in this fashion sets the trend for the rest of the game.

The rules of the different domino games vary, but in most cases the first play is made by the player who holds the highest double or single tile in his hand. If a tie exists, the tied players draw new hands from the stock and, in some cases, the winner of the last game begins the next.

Most dominoes are arranged on the table in a line of play, although there are some games that do not have a line of play and instead rely on byeing tiles from the stock to make a move. A player draws the number of tiles he is permitted to take from the stock according to the rules of the specific game and places them in his hand, adding them to any dominoes already in his hand.

Hevesh creates each of her domino installations by following a version of the engineering-design process. She starts by considering the overall theme or purpose of the piece, then brainstorms images or words that might be related to it. Next, she creates test versions of each section before putting them together. She builds the largest 3-D arrangements first, then adds flat arrangements and finally the lines that connect them all.

Physicist Stephen Morris, who studies gravity and energy, agrees that a domino’s inertia is key to its ability to influence other dominoes. When a player picks up a domino, it has potential energy, which is the energy it has stored by standing upright against gravity. This energy is converted to kinetic energy when the domino falls and then transmits to the next domino, pushing on it. This continues until all the dominoes have fallen.