Wonder of the Day: Dominoes

We’ve all seen that marvelous scene in movies where, after someone nudges the first domino just so, the rest fall in a magnificent cascade of rhythmic motion. And we probably all know that the word “domino” refers to any kind of action that causes a chain reaction like this. Today’s Wonder of the Day explores how the concept of a domino effect can be applied to writing.

Dominoes are small rectangular blocks used in games that involve a sequence of actions where the final result depends on the starting point. Each domino is marked on one side with an arrangement of spots that resembles the dots on dice. The other side is blank or identically patterned. The number of dots on a domino corresponds to its value, which in turn determines the order in which it must be played. A domino may be called a bone, a card, a piece or a tile, but the name that is most often associated with the game is a set of dominoes. A set normally contains 28 dominoes, although larger sets are sometimes available.

Unlike playing cards, which have uniform values, dominoes have a variety of different value systems. The value of a domino is determined by the number of dots it has on its ends, which are usually divided visually into squares by a line or ridge and marked with an arrangement of spots or pips. The value of a domino is either 0 or 1. A double domino has two matching ends, while a single end has only one. Those ends that have matching numbers of pips form a suit, which consists of two suits in most games.

In addition to the standardized plastic sets, dominoes are also produced in wood, stone (including marble and granite), metal, ceramic clay or other materials. Natural materials tend to have a heavier feel and are more expensive than polymer sets. Traditionally, European-style dominoes were made of bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl) or ivory, with a darker material such as ebony on the bottom half for contrast. Many modern sets use MOP, ivory or other white materials on top with a black inlaid material on the lower portion.

Most domino games involve scoring points by completing a series of dominoes in a player’s hand or on the table. Others involve blocking opponents’ plays. Still other games are designed to teach children number recognition and math skills. Some games, such as bergen and muggins, allow players to place tiles that have not yet been matched to other dominoes.