Dominos are flat rectangular blocks, thumb-sized or smaller, bearing from one to six identifying markings on either side of an empty central square. The markings, called pips, are similar to those on a die and appear in various arrangements on each piece. A domino is usually affixed to a base, which can be made of wood, plastic or metal. A complete set of dominoes contains 28 pieces. A domino can also refer to any of several games played with these pieces, including lines and angular patterns, or 3D structures like towers and pyramids. The name comes from the Latin dominus, meaning lord or master, but is also associated with cause and effect, suggesting that those who play this game must always consider the consequences of their actions.
The first domino toppled begins a chain reaction that travels down the line of pieces. The speed of the pulse that moves through a series of dominoes is dependent on the number of pieces in the line and on whether each has been touched by another. A domino’s impulsive movement is similar to the firing of nerve impulses down an axon.
Many of the games played with dominoes involve positioning one domino edge to edge against another, building a chain that is a specified length or forming an overall total. When a player plays a domino with a resulting result that satisfies these basic requirements, the player is said to have “stitched up” the ends of the chain. The word can also be used to describe the act of placing a domino on the table in such a way that it touches one end or the other of a previously placed tile.
A domino’s open end may be oriented in any direction, though most often it is vertical. This orientation is sometimes referred to as the face of the domino or the lead. In a few games, the player may be required to place a domino on its face. Depending on the rules of a particular game, an open end must be facing up or down, and some games require that a domino only be played on its face.
Before a game begins, players must shuffle the dominoes. They may take turns shuffling for each game or the same player may shuffle before every game. The dominoes are then drawn for hands according to the rules of a specific game.
Dominos can be made from a variety of materials, with the most common being plastic or polymer. Other materials include bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory or a dark hardwood such as ebony. These sets are usually more expensive than those of polymer or other materials.
Some players prefer to use natural materials for their dominoes. These sets are usually more expensive, but they offer a more unique look and feel. In addition, the material can help the dominoes to feel more solid in the hand. In addition, some people believe that natural materials are better suited to the physics of dominoes and may improve a player’s experience with the games.