Dominoes – More Than Just a Game


Domino, from the Latin for “falling together,” is a small, flat rectangular block used as gaming object. Dominoes are also known as bones, pieces, men, or stones and have been in use for centuries. They have been used as tools for learning, building, and entertaining. Various types of domino sets have been developed over the years for different games and are available in a wide variety of materials.

Each domino has two matching ends, one displaying numbers and the other blank or decorated with a design. The numbering on each end corresponds to a set of rules that governs how a domino is played. A typical European domino set has black or white pips and can be made of bone or ivory, or a dark hardwood such as ebony with contrasting colored pips (inlaid or painted).

The basic rule is that each player must play all the tiles in their hand. If a tile is unable to be played, it is placed in a special area called the boneyard until a suitable match is found. The first player to do so wins the game. The resulting chain of tiles is often called a “domino train” or simply a domino chain. In a traditional game, players alternate turns selecting dominoes from the boneyard until an opening double is laid, for example, “double-six?” In some variants, the heaviest double in each player’s hand becomes the opening double, and play passes to the next player when it is played.

When a series of dominoes are arranged carefully, they can create a stunning visual display that takes the eye. Domino artists, such as Hevesh, have created incredible displays for movies, TV shows, and events and hold the record for most dominoes toppled in a circular arrangement. Hevesh tests each section of her creations before assembling them and films her work in slow motion to make precise adjustments. She often builds a few thousand dominoes, and it can take several nail-biting minutes for the largest setups to fall.

While dominoes are often thought of as a mathematical tool, there is a lot more to the game than meets the eye. Dominoes have inertia, a tendency to resist movement when no outside force is acting on them. Yet, a little nudge can set them in motion.

Students can experiment with the laws of physics by using dominoes to create addition equations. Teachers can help students explore the fact that each domino has a unique dot pattern and that each side of the domino has an equal value. Students can rotate the domino so that, for example, a 2 and a 4 are on opposite sides of the domino and then name an addition equation to represent this fact. Students can do this in pairs or small groups, and they can also try creating a domino addition worksheet. For a deeper exploration of the idea, students can build their own domino chains on a whiteboard or other surface and draw the dots from each end to create a new equation for each domino added.