Why Do Dominoes Fall in a Predictable Fashion?

Dominoes are a great way to teach kids about sequencing. They’re also fun to play with and can be used for creative projects, like building a rainbow spiral or 3D structures. But what’s the scientific reason that dominoes fall in such a predictable fashion? It all has to do with gravity, energy, and the law of inertia.

Dominoes (also called bones, cards, men, or tiles) are double-sided rectangular blocks with a value of pips (or dots) on one end and blank on the other. In most games, a tile is matched with another that displays the same number of pips, but there are many other ways to play the game as well. Some games, such as concentration, allow players to assign a different value to each blank side of a tile.

The four most common domino sets are the double-6, double-9, double-12, and double-15. Most domino games are played with the double-6 set, but they can be modified to use other sets as well. The goal of most domino games is to reach a specific score in a certain number of rounds. The first player to do so wins the game. In some cases, the winner of a given round is awarded a higher number of points than the other players. Typically, this is done by awarding the highest double of the opposing players (e.g., a double-6 counts as 6 and a double-9 counts as 12).

Lily Hevesh’s fascination with dominoes began when she was 9 years old. Her grandparents had a classic 28-pack, and she loved setting them up in straight or curved lines, flicking the first one, and watching the whole line fall, domino by domino. Now Hevesh is a professional domino artist who creates mind-blowing setups for movies, TV shows, and events–including the album launch of pop star Katy Perry.

Hevesh uses a version of the engineering-design process when creating her setups. She starts with a theme or purpose for the design, then brainstorms images that might be represented by the dominoes she wants to use. She then calculates how many dominoes she will need and creates a blueprint for the layout.

When Hevesh begins constructing her domino masterpieces, she places them on the floor in a carefully organized sequence. She then focuses on the placement of each individual domino, arranging them so that they will form a smooth and flowing pattern when they’re knocked over. When the first domino falls, much of its potential energy converts to kinetic energy, or the energy of motion, which is transferred to the next domino in the sequence, and so on. Hevesh says that the best part of the process is watching her creations come to life before her eyes, and she hopes others will be inspired to create their own domino art as well.