The Basics of Dominoes

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Like playing cards, dominoes have a line or ridge that divides each side visually into two squares, called ends. The domino’s identifying marks, called spots or pips, are arranged differently on each end and may be blank, a single number (usually 6) or a pattern of numbers or symbols. The domino’s rank, or weight, is determined by its total number of pips.

Unlike the digits of a scoreboard, dominoes are small enough to manage in a confined workshop but detailed enough to demand respect for their craftsman. They can be made from woods such as oak and ebony; metals including brass and pewter; clay, stone or even frosted glass. Most often, dominoes are made of bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory or a dark hardwood such as ebony, with contrasting black or white dots or pips.

When a domino is set up and knocked over, it releases energy that travels along the length of the chain in a pulse. This is similar to the way a nerve impulse in your body travels down its axon to control muscles and organs. Unlike other forms of energy, the domino’s pulse doesn’t lose any energy as it moves down the line and can only go one way, like a firing neuron.

The speed at which a domino falls is determined by its position on the chain, its size and shape, and its relative mass to the rest of the chain. It is also dependent on the force of gravity, and the amount of momentum it has from its initial impact and subsequent collisions with other dominoes and other obstacles.

A good domino player will make strategic decisions based on the available information and the limits of their opponent’s hands. Blocking games such as bergen and muggins help prevent opponents from emptying their hands; scoring games, such as a double-six game, count the pips in the losing players’ hands. Dominos can also be played as solitaire or trick-taking games. These variants are particularly popular in areas that have religious proscriptions against the use of cards, and may have been adapted from card-based games that were used to circumvent these restrictions.

Domino Effect

When the first domino falls in a game, it triggers a chain reaction that causes each subsequent domino to fall. Eventually, the entire stack collapses under its own weight. This is the same basic concept of an event domino in a story: Each scene or action domino may be insignificant on its own, but together they create a chain that ultimately influences the next scene or plot point. This is why the pace of a story must be fast, and why it helps to think about each scene as a domino.