Artistry of Dominoes

Dominoes are small rectangular blocks of wood or plastic bearing from one to six pips (small dots) and arranged in rows. A complete set contains 28 tiles and can be used for a variety of games. In addition to the traditional blocking and scoring games, domino also has been used for solitaire-like activities and to circumvent religious proscriptions against cards.

Unlike most games, where the pieces are laid flat, domino art requires precise placement to create intricate layouts and patterns as they fall. The artist must plan out the entire sequence of each piece and calculate how many are needed for each design. She may choose to use straight or curved lines, grids that form pictures, stacked walls, 3-D structures like towers and pyramids, or other designs. She then sketches out the entire setup on a sheet of paper, adding arrows to show how each tile will fall.

She also makes a test version of each section of the design and films it in slow motion, so she can correct it before finalizing her work. Creating such an elaborate domino arrangement isn’t easy, but it’s what Hevesh loves to do. Her biggest installations take several nail-biting minutes to finish, and Hevesh credits one physical phenomenon for her success: gravity.

Each domino has a unique pips layout, and each type of game has its own rules and strategy. Typically, the first player to play a domino sets the pattern for the rest of the players. Then the other players follow that pattern to determine their turns, with each adding one of their own tiles to the chain. Each time a domino is added to the chain, the number of pips on that domino becomes the count for that domino, and that sum is used to calculate points at the end of the game.

Most domino games are played with a standard double-twelve or double-nine set of tiles, but some are played with more complex configurations and with specialized pieces called spinners. A spinner is a tile that can be played on all four sides, and depending on the rules of the game, it may be required to be played as the lead, or it may be allowed to substitute for any other piece on its turn. In addition, some games allow players to buy tiles from the stock after they have drawn the number they are permitted to take according to the rules of the game. The tiles purchased from the stock are then added to the hand being played and become part of the domino chain. These extra tiles are sometimes known as “passing” or “byeing” tiles. This method adds another dimension to the game and often results in a more challenging, competitive, or strategic game. This is one of the reasons why a domino set can be so expensive. However, the quality of a domino set can be worth the investment as it will last for generations. A very good set will have been made of a high-quality material, such as bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory, or ebony with contrasting inlaid black or white pips.