What Can Domino Teach Us About Science?

Domino, the classic game of arranging dominoes in straight or curved lines and then flipping one over to start a chain reaction, has been entertaining people for more than a century. But it’s not just a fun pastime—domino can actually teach us about science.

Lily Hevesh, a 20-year-old from California, started playing with dominoes when she was 9. She quickly began creating mind-blowing displays that involve thousands of tiles. Her largest projects take several nail-biting minutes to fall. Hevesh’s designs are more than just art—they demonstrate how physical laws govern how a domino falls.

She says one physical phenomenon is especially crucial to her work: gravity. This force pulls a knocked-over domino toward the ground, sending it crashing into the next one and setting off another chain reaction. “Without gravity, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do,” she says.

When Hevesh sets up a domino design, she first considers its theme or purpose. She then brainstorms images or words that can fit with that theme. Then she creates a diagram that shows how the pieces will be arranged and where they will be placed. She then calculates how many dominoes she will need to complete the design.

After she has a plan, Hevesh starts building the piece. She starts with a set of double-six dominoes—28 total—and adds more as she goes along. She also uses special arrows to mark the path each domino will take when it falls. The arrows help her determine how long the domino will be and which direction it will spin, if necessary.

The most common domino sets have 28 tiles, although larger sets exist for games involving multiple players or for players who want to build large-scale structures. The most popular type of domino play is layout games, which fall into two categories: blocking and scoring games. Blocking games, like bergen and muggins, are played by limiting the number of opposing players’ spots. Scoring games, such as Mexican train and tetris, count the total number of spots on a tile or the sum of its suit of pips (spots or numbers) to determine a winner.

Domino’s has been plagued with bad publicity over the past few months, but it’s not all its fault. The company’s chief executive recently apologized to customers on YouTube for posting a video that showed Domino’s pizzas being delivered to the wrong addresses. While that might have seemed like a silly mistake, it’s an important reminder that even the simplest of mistakes can cause major damage to a brand. The physics of the domino effect can be a lesson in how to avoid making similar errors.