From professional domino competitions to a simple 28-piece set, these small blocks of wood or plastic have become a part of family games and a way of life. Dominoes are cousins of playing cards and were invented in China in the 1300s, making them one of humanity’s oldest tools for gaming. Their versatility, beauty and intricate craftsmanship make them a popular gift item.
A domino, also called a bone, piece, men, or stone, is a flat rectangular block used as a gaming object, with one side bearing an arrangement of dots like those on dice. The other side is blank or marked with a number, called pips, that indicates its identity. Most dominoes are printed with Arabic numerals, although some have a more readable motif, such as a heart or horseshoe, or are colored. Dominoes are available in many different materials, colors and finishes, including marble, granite, soapstone, linoleum and other hardwoods. Some are even made of metal, such as brass or pewter. In recent years, dominoes have been manufactured out of polymer, such as a type of plastic resin.
Most dominoes are used for blocking or scoring games. For the latter, each player tries to extend their line of play by placing a domino on the table with an end that matches the open end of another domino on the line. The players then take turns playing dominoes on the line until either someone can’t continue play or the entire line is complete. The winner is the player who has the most matching dominoes in their hand when the game ends.
While most dominoes are made of solid material, some are carved from natural materials such as bone or silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), and even woods such as ebony. Those sets are more expensive and have a heavier, more tactile feel. Some are carved with designs such as flowers or animals, while others are decorated with inlaid or painted pips.
A domino’s pips indicate its identity, but the identifying marks can be obscured by dirt or dust. As a result, dominoes are frequently cleaned with a damp cloth. They are also occasionally painted or oiled to preserve their appearance and performance.
Dominoes are often used to teach children the alphabet and numbers, and for educational purposes. They are also used to practice motor skills and coordination. The speed at which a domino falls is similar to the speed at which a nerve impulse travels down the axon of a neuron in the body. This explains why dominoes are often compared to a chain reaction, and the term “domino effect,” which describes the way that one event can cause a series of events, in this case falling dominoes, to occur.