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The Art of Domino


Domino is a small rectangular wood or plastic block used as a game piece with markings on one side that resemble those on dice. The markings, called pips, form the foundation for various games that test a player’s knowledge and skill. Dominos, also known as bones, pieces, men, or stones, are cousins of playing cards and are among the oldest tools for game play.

The domino set that you are most likely familiar with consists of 28 tiles in a double-six or double-nine arrangement. Larger sets exist, but they are used mostly by people who enjoy long-games that require several players and a lot of tiles. The most common type of domino game are “layout” games, which involve positioning tiles so that one or more lines end in the designated number (either a whole number or a multiple). Some people use the asymmetrical dominos as a kind of art object and create 3-D arrangements and other sculptures.

For the rest of us, there is a certain joy in setting up a line of dominoes, flicking the first one, and watching it all come tumbling down, one tile at a time. Lily Hevesh, 20, has a passion for this that led her to create a YouTube channel where she shows off her creations. Her work includes domino setups for movies, TV shows, and events like a Katy Perry album launch. Hevesh makes a point of testing each section of an installation before adding it to the full display. She then films the test in slow motion, so she can make precise corrections if something doesn’t work as planned.

She explains that her goal is to create structures that are pleasing to the eye, as well as challenging to build. She prefers curved arrangements over straight ones, because they are more difficult to get right. She also takes care to lay each tile perpendicular to the previous one, to make sure that there are four open lines for other players to add their tiles to.

Most domino games have rules that limit the number of tiles a single player can add to a line, although some allow for the addition of duplicates or even more than one tile in a row. When a player can no longer add to the line, that person “knocks” and play continues with another player. The winner is the player who adds the most matching tiles to the line and has a lower total pips count than his or her opponent.

Dominoes were first recorded in the mid-18th century in Italy and France, and in England shortly thereafter. The word — from the Latin dominum, meaning “flip” — originally denoted a long hooded cloak worn with a mask during carnival season or at a masquerade.

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