The Art of Dominoes


A domino is a small rectangular block of rigid material that is used as a gaming object. It is marked with a pattern of dots or squares, called pips, that resemble those on dice. The other face of the domino is blank or identically patterned to the pips. It is also sometimes referred to as a bone, piece, or men. Dominoes are used for a number of games, some that involve a chain reaction and others that score points. A player takes turns playing dominoes onto a table and, if the next tile played fits into the chain to one side or another, the previous domino is said to be “stitched up.”

Lily Hevesh began collecting dominoes when she was 9. She would set them up in straight lines or curved ones and flick them over, watching each one tumble down in sequence, one after the other. Hevesh has now become a professional domino artist who has created elaborate setups for movies, TV shows, and events—including an album launch for pop star Katy Perry. She has also authored a book and a YouTube channel devoted to her craft.

She credits the physical phenomenon of gravity with her success. The force that pulls down a falling domino pushes the next one, and the next after that, until a chain reaction has sprung into life. Hevesh’s most intricate creations can take several nail-biting minutes to complete.

Each domino has a set of rules that dictate how it can be used in a game. A basic rule is that a domino must be placed on a spot or line that can support it, called an open end. Ideally, the open end should be lined up with the pips on the opposite end of the domino to produce a line that has all of its pips showing.

The earliest domino sets were made from wood, but they now are commonly constructed of bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory, or a dark hardwood such as ebony. Some sets also are made from stone (such as marble, granite, or soapstone); metals; ceramic clay; or other materials such as frosted glass or crystal.

In the 1300s, dominoes were first developed in China. They are cousins of playing cards, but unlike cards, dominoes can be played in many different ways, including using them to build structures such as towers and mazes. The earliest European dominoes were constructed of wood, but they are now most often made of clay or plastic.

The word domino means “little one,” and it refers to the fact that each domino has a series of marks or pips that represent the results of throwing two six-sided dice. The markings on a domino vary depending on the type of domino, and some have all pips or all blank faces. The traditional 28-piece domino set contains the 21 possible combinations of dice results. Other dominoes are designed to represent each of the other two types of dice, or to include duplicates of certain results.