If you’ve ever watched one of those satisfying videos of a long chain of dominoes toppling down, you might be curious about what happens when you touch just the first domino. It turns out, that first domino converts potential energy into kinetic energy—the energy of motion—which is transmitted to the next domino, providing the push needed to topple it. And the cycle continues, building on itself each time as it passes along the line.
A domino is a small rectangular wood or plastic block with a surface arranged in rows of squares (or spots) resembling the markings on dice. Dominoes are usually twice as long as they are wide. They may also be called bones, cards, men, pieces or tiles. In addition to being used as a game, dominoes are also a handy teaching tool to demonstrate how physics concepts work.
The word domino is derived from the Latin domini, meaning “he who leads” or “he who dominates.” Several terms are related to this concept of leadership: dominance, authority, and management. Leadership is the ability to motivate and direct a group of people, and to lead by example in making tough decisions. Management, on the other hand, is the process of organizing and directing an organization.
Throughout history, domino has also been used in a variety of ways in other cultures and languages. In Chinese, for example, it denoted the number 91 or a double-twelve set of dominoes. It also referred to a hooded cloak worn with a mask for carnival season or at a masquerade. Its association with a hooded cloak may be based on the fact that early domino pieces were made with contrasting colors—ebony blacks and ivory faces—resembling a priest’s cape over his surplice.
Dominoes can be used in many different games, most of which involve a sequence of dominoes being laid down on a flat surface and then knocked over. Normally, a player must place his or her domino so that the two matching ends are adjacent. If a match is not possible, the player “knocks” or raps the table and play passes to the opponent.
Some popular games that use dominoes include the games of tic-tac-toe and poker. Dominoes are also used in mathematical and geometric puzzles, as well as to represent chemical reactions in chemistry.
The idea of a domino effect is also common in storytelling. In novels and nonfiction, dominoes might be characters or scenes in a story that influence the development of information or an argument. For example, a scene domino might be a car accident that propels the plot forward and makes the rest of the story make sense. Or a story might be set in a location where the dominoes are the city streets, buildings or monuments that form the backdrop for the story. The domino effect is a powerful metaphor for how things in life can affect each other and make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.