The Basics of Dominoes


Dominoes, cousins of playing cards, allow for a wide variety of games that require skill and patience. From professional domino game competition to setting up a line of tiles and flicking the first one, domino has stood the test of time as a classic childhood favorite. Dominoes also provide a fun way to teach children about the basics of math and number recognition, as well as how to set up shapes and lines of dominoes.

The earliest domino sets were made of bone or ivory, or dark wood such as ebony, with black or white pips inlaid or painted on them. Later, more sophisticated sets were made from a wide range of materials, including metal (such as brass or pewter); natural stone (e.g., marble, granite or soapstone); other hardwoods; and even ceramic clay or frosted glass. Most dominoes, however, are now made from polymer materials such as plastic, resin or a combination of these.

Domino tiles are twice as long as they are wide, and each side contains dots or pips that indicate the value of the tile when matched with another domino. A domino’s rank or weight is based on its number of pips; a higher number of pips indicates a heavier domino. Some dominoes have blank sides that cannot be matched with any other tile; these are known as wild.

Western dominoes are most commonly used for positional games, in which each player places a domino edge to edge against an opponent’s stack of dominoes so that the adjacent faces match in some specified pattern or total. The game’s earliest known usage dates to the 1300s in China, and the markings on dominoes are thought to represent the results of throwing two six-sided dice.

A single domino has a maximum of 12 pips on each end, and a complete domino set requires a minimum of five tiles per player. Larger sets are possible by introducing additional ends with more pips; this allows for more combinations of adjacent dominoes. The most common extended sets have double-twelve, double-nine and double-15 dominoes. Because identifying the number of pips on each domino becomes more difficult as the set grows, some large dominoes have more readable Arabic numerals on the ends.

While some writers plot out their stories using outlines or software like Scrivener, others write by the seat of their pants, letting the scenes happen as they go. In either case, whether you’re a planner or a panster, considering the domino effect can help you keep your story in line. If a scene doesn’t add tension or raise the stakes, then it might be a candidate for the chopping block.