Dominoes are square tiles marked with an arrangement of spots or pips, similar to those on a die, on one side and blank or identically patterned on the other. The most common domino set contains 28 unique tiles. The pips are normally arranged so that each end has a value, ranging from six pips to none or blank, and the sum of the values on both sides is called the rank or weight of a piece. A domino that has more pips is often described as “heavier” than a smaller tile with fewer pips, which would be considered “lighter.”
The most common Western games involve blocking and scoring, and they are played in the same way that cards are played. The pieces are shuffled, and players draw for the lead; the leader places the first domino on the table, typically a double-six. Additional dominoes are placed on-edge around the layout, and each player adds to the pile in turn. The game ends when the players have no more dominoes to play.
A domino can only be matched with another with the same number of pips on the exposed ends, and most games require that the matching ends touch, i.e., a single’s end touches a double’s end or two’s touch each other (or in some cases one’s touch a single). Several types of domino sets are available to meet varying needs and skill levels. Common domino sets include the double-nine, double-12, and the classic 28-piece set.
While the rules for many of these games are relatively simple, creating a stunning domino setup requires a good deal of skill and planning. Lily Hevesh, a domino artist who has amassed more than 2 million YouTube subscribers and created an album-launch domino setup for Katy Perry, started collecting and playing with dominoes as a child and learned to create intricate designs by watching how the pieces fell, one after the other.
Hevesh plans out each section of a project in advance, and then films her tests to verify that the sections work together. She then assembles the entire layout, starting with the biggest 3-D sections. She also places the flat arrangements, and then the lines that connect them all together.
Once the dominoes are in place, Hevesh plays the first tile, either by drawing a piece from a deck of cards or by picking the heaviest piece in a hand. The remaining pieces are then grouped into a stack, and the next player draws a piece from that stack.
Hevesh says that the laws of physics are what make her projects possible. “Gravity is the main thing that makes a good domino setup possible,” she says. Hevesh is the co-creator of the Guinness World Record for most dominoes toppled in a circular arrangement: 76,017. Her most elaborate creations take a few nail-biting minutes to fall. But she knows that when the time is right, the dominoes will fall into place perfectly.