A domino is a small, rectangular wood or plastic block with an arrangement of spots, like those on a die, on one face and blank or identically patterned on the other. Dominoes are used in a variety of games to create chains or lines of domino pieces that fall over when one is knocked over. The term is also used to describe a type of game played with these blocks, as well as for the set of rules that govern them.
The first known use of the word was in the late 1700s, and both the game and the word quickly spread around the world. It is thought that the name came from the shape of the piece, which resembled a large black cape worn by priests over their white surplices. The word may have been derived from French or Italian, both of which had the meaning “cape.”
As early as the 1860s, Americans were playing games with dominoes. The games were popular with people who couldn’t or wouldn’t play cards, including many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), who were barred from card playing for religious reasons. By 1889, the first dominoes were being printed, and by 1914 the word domino was in the dictionary.
The game is usually played on a table with the dominoes standing on edge in front of the players. The players draw their tiles and then the first player (determined by drawing lots, or by who holds the heaviest hand) begins by placing one tile on the table. The next player then matches that tile, if possible, with another in the chain. This continues until a domino cannot be placed, or the chains ends at the last remaining tile.
If the chain ends at this point, it is a draw and play passes to the other partner. Alternatively, the game can continue until one of the players cannot play anymore, at which point that player “chips out.” The winner is the partner with the fewest number of tiles left in their hands at this time.
In addition to being fun, the game can teach counting and strategy. It also encourages a positive attitude toward work and responsibility. Good dominoes are tasks that are challenging and require a lot of time and effort, but that will have a significant impact on something larger. For example, Jennifer Dukes Lee found that making her bed every morning was a good domino, because it helped her build the habit of maintaining a clean home.
For those who are more interested in the science behind the domino effect, physicist Stephen Morris describes it as an energy transfer from potential to kinetic. When a domino is standing upright, it has potential energy based on its position. When it falls, this energy is transferred into other forms of energy—mostly kinetic—which causes the rest of the dominoes to topple over in sequence. This is why a domino chain works as it does, and why even a single domino can have a huge impact.