Day: June 30, 2023

How Dominoes Work


When Lily Hevesh was a kid, she liked nothing better than lining up dominoes in straight or curved lines and flicking them to make them fall. That childhood hobby turned into a passion, and now Hevesh is a professional domino artist who has created spectacular sets for movies, TV shows, and events—including a recent album launch for pop star Katy Perry. Hevesh creates her domino installations by hand, but she also uses 3-D software to design them beforehand. She tests each section of the setup in slow motion, making adjustments to ensure it works before putting the whole thing together.

Dominoes are flat, thumb-sized blocks, each with an identity-bearing face divided into two parts: one part bears from one to six pips (small dots) or squares, and the other is blank or identically patterned. A complete set of dominoes consists of 28 such pieces. Each domino has a unique number inscribed on its face, and when the set is arranged properly, it forms a chain of numbers that goes down one side and then back up the other.

The first domino is placed down on the table, either by choice or by chance. Players then begin to add tiles to the chain, matching one end of their tile to the corresponding pips on the previous domino. Some games allow doubles, which have pips on both ends, to be laid perpendicular to the chain.

As each domino is pushed onto the previous tile, its edges slip against the adjacent ones and cause friction. That friction converts some of the potential energy stored in the domino into kinetic energy, or the energy of motion. This causes the domino to fall, and as it does so, it releases some of its kinetic energy into the surrounding pieces—which then topple in turn.

Dominoes are a great example of how physics can help us understand the way things work in our daily lives. When we pick a good task to accomplish, it is important to consider how the completion of that task will affect other tasks. The same can be said for a business strategy: Choosing the right strategy will have a positive impact on the success of a company, and the same is true of selecting the right employees. Whether you are building a domino set or plotting your next novel, thinking about the mechanics of how things work will help you be more productive and creative.

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