Dominoes, cousins to playing cards, are one of the oldest tools for game play. From professional domino games to simply stacking them in long lines, this simple tool can be used for a number of fun activities that challenge patience and skill. Many of us have played a game of domino at home with a group of friends or siblings. A simple flick of the first domino can start a chain reaction that causes the whole line to topple over. This concept has led to the popular phrase, “domino effect.”
The markings on a domino, called pips, originally represented the results of throwing two six-sided dice. Each domino has a number of pips on either end and can be valued differently based on their position. Usually, a domino with more pips is considered to be “heavier” than a domino with fewer or no pips. Each domino is normally twice as long as it is wide, allowing them to be stacked on each other easily.
A set of dominoes can be arranged in straight or curved lines, grids that form pictures when they fall, or 3D structures like towers and pyramids. These setups can be very elaborate, and each of them requires careful planning to make sure they work. Lily Hevesh, a domino artist with more than 2 million YouTube subscribers, plans her dominoes using a version of the engineering-design process. She begins with a theme and brainstorms ideas about what she might want to include in the design. Then she creates a drawing to plan out the track for her domino art.
After the drawing is completed, she calculates how many dominoes she will need to accomplish her goal. She may even create a small model of the layout to test it out. If the plan works, she then proceeds with assembling the real thing.
The physics of dominoes is complex, and there are a lot of different forces at play that affect how the individual pieces of the chain react. A physicist at the University of Toronto explains that when you stand up a domino, it has potential energy, which is a stored energy based on its position. As the domino falls, much of this energy is converted from potential to kinetic energy, or the energy of motion, and this energy is transmitted from the falling domino to the next one, providing the push it needs to fall over. This process continues down the line until all the dominoes have fallen.
In business, Domino’s Pizza CEO Don Meij uses a variation of the domino effect to help build strong leadership. In an episode of the show Undercover Boss, Meij sends the CEO of another restaurant chain to work at one of its busiest restaurants and delivery services, where he is surprised by how much effort it takes for employees to get their job done. Meij then uses the domino effect to encourage employee enthusiasm and performance. Afterwards, the company’s sales and customer satisfaction increase dramatically.