Domino is a word that describes a type of game, but it’s also a metaphor for how we often approach our work and personal lives. We might see an important goal as a “domino” and focus all of our energies on it, only to find that it can’t be toppled until other smaller dominoes have fallen into place. In this video, a professional domino artist shows how she creates her intricate designs and uses the laws of physics to make them happen.
Dominoes are rectangular blocks that have a face bearing an arrangement of dots, or pips, and are blank on the other side. They’re the building blocks of a variety of games played by matching ends of individual pieces and laying them down in lines or angular patterns. A standard set of 28 dominoes is called a double six set, but many people have different sets that they use to play their favorite games.
The most common domino games are positional, meaning that a player plays one of their pieces on the table and positions it so that its adjacent edges match up with those of another piece already in place. This enables a chain of matching pieces to grow in length. Dominoes can be played on a square or a circular table, and some sets even have special domino pieces that are designed to fit together in a 3-D puzzle.
Whether they’re made of plastic or wood, each domino has its own unique shape that affects how it falls. For example, a triangle-shaped domino tends to flip itself over more easily than one that’s flattened on its side or has its back to the floor. The shape of a domino also impacts how easy it is to see the number on its end, so many sets feature an Arabic numeral on the pips.
In addition to being a fun and challenging game, dominoes are a model for the function of nerve cells, or neurons. The falling of a dominoes simulates how an electrical impulse travels down the long body of a neuron to cause it to fire. The process also demonstrates how the removal of one domino stops the flow of energy in the domino chain, just as the removal of a nerve impulse can stop it from propagating.
To help you visualize this process, take a ruler and a handful of dominoes and position them all at the end of the ruler. Then lightly touch the first domino with your finger and observe how it changes the position of the rest of the dominoes. Repeat this experiment several times to get a sense of the speed at which each domino moves and how the position of the others affects it. Using this information, you can determine the approximate length of each domino in your set. Afterward, carefully reset the dominoes so that they’re upright and carefully measure the distance between each one and the edge of the ruler.