What Is Dominoes?

A domino is a small rectangular block, thumb-sized or larger, that has two parts, each bearing from one to six dots or “pips” resembling those on a die. 28 such blocks form a complete set. The term is also used to describe any of the many games played with such pieces, which are usually arranged in lines and angular patterns.

Lily Hevesh started playing with her grandparents’ classic 28-pack of dominoes at age 9. She loved setting them up in a straight or curved line, flicking the first domino, and watching the chain reaction unfold. Hevesh is now a professional domino artist, creating stunning sets for TV shows and events. She has even set a Guinness World Record for the most dominoes toppled in a circular arrangement. She says the physical phenomenon that powers her setups is simple: gravity.

Dominoes have long been made of natural materials, including bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl or MOP), ivory and a dark hardwood such as ebony. MOP, ivory and wood are sometimes painted to enhance or preserve their appearance, but the most common sets are polymer molded from clay, plastic, or resins. Polymer sets are generally cheaper than their natural counterparts, but lack the feel and durability of traditional sets.

Each domino has a characteristic pattern on its face, which distinguishes it from other tiles in the same set. The identity-bearing part of a domino is called its end, and the value of each end is indicated by the number of pips or dots it bears, which may range from six to none. A tile having more pips is called a “heavy” or “sharp” piece, while one having fewer is “light.”

The ends of the dominoes are numbered, and the gamer who plays a tile that matches the end of another is said to “stitch up the ends.” Matching the ends of two pieces is necessary for a chain of dominoes to develop, as each subsequent tile must be placed so that its matching ends touch. Alternatively, a double may be played so that its sides are touching – this type of domino is called a spinner.

When a domino is played with a matching end to an existing tile, the resulting chain of dominoes forms a snake-like structure. The length of the domino chain is determined by the rules of the game, and scoring may be based on the number of total pips in a losing player’s hand or on the number of pips displayed at either end of a tile. In some games, the number of pips on both ends of a double is counted; this is known as counting both faces. The term “domino” originally denoted a hooded cloak worn together with a mask at a carnival or masquerade. It later denoted a specialized form of cape.