How to Design a Domino Setup


Dominoes are one of the most classic toys, and they are still fun to play with. You can line up dominoes to make a straight line, curved lines, grids that form pictures when they fall, stacked walls, or even 3D structures like towers and pyramids. You can also experiment with different designs, varying the amount of force you use to set them up. For example, try setting up the dominoes so they are upright and then barely touch the first one with your finger. Watch what happens – the domino should fall, but with a much shorter distance than before.

Hevesh creates her mind-blowing domino setups by following a version of the engineering-design process. She starts by considering a theme or purpose for the installation. Then she brainstorms images or words that relate to it, such as “falling,” “earth,” or “stack.”

She then draws a sketch of the track that the dominoes will follow. From there, she determines how many dominoes she needs for the design and calculates how long the track should be. Finally, she tests the setup by making it fall a few times and observing its behavior. She also adjusts the size of her drawing as needed to accommodate the dominoes she has chosen.

When Hevesh sets up a large row of dominoes, the key to their success is gravity. The dominoes stay upright because of their shape and their contact with the ground or the tabletop on which they are standing. This contact generates friction, which helps them resist the pull of gravity. But once a domino is tilted just slightly by the slightest nudge, its potential energy converts to kinetic energy, the energy of motion. This energy is transmitted to the next domino, providing the push it needs to fall.

Each domino is a rectangular block, thumb-sized and typically twice as long as wide. Its face may be blank or have a value of one to six spots, or pips, divided into two squares, called ends. A complete set of dominoes has 28 tiles: eight double-twelve and nine double-nine.

Dominos can be made from various materials, including polymer and ceramic clay; European-style dominoes are traditionally made of bone, silver lip ocean oyster shell (mother-of-pearl), ivory, or a dark hardwood such as ebony, with contrasting black or white pips inlaid or painted on them. Some dominoes are also made of marble, granite, soapstone, or frosted glass. The term domino has also been applied to a series of events or a situation, as in the idiom domino effect, whereby one small trigger causes a larger chain reaction, sometimes with catastrophic results. This idiom is rooted in the Cold War politics of the 1950s, when a political columnist named Ralph Alsop wrote about how America’s support for South Vietnam would lead to Communism spreading throughout Asia. The phrase caught on, and it is now widely used to describe any scenario in which one event can cause a chain reaction of other events.