In this Wonder of the Day, we’ll take a look at the domino—a flat, thumb-sized rectangular block with either one or two sides, each bearing from one to six spots or dots that resemble those on dice. A complete set of dominoes contains 28 pieces. Sometimes referred to as bones, cards, men, tiles, or spinners, dominoes can be used for many games that involve laying them in lines or angular patterns. Some are played with a single player while others are cooperative or competitive.
In addition to their physical properties, dominoes also have a powerful figurative meaning. In fact, the domino effect is a popular metaphor for any event that causes other events to follow suit, whether those events are political, economic, or otherwise. You might hear the phrase “domino effect” to describe a country’s decision to adopt communism, for example.
The word domino itself comes from the Latin domini, meaning a little one. The individual domino is so small that it has inertia, which means that it resists motion unless there’s an outside force pushing on it. Once that first domino is pushed past its tipping point, however, it begins to exert momentum. As it moves, it pushes on the next domino in line, and the chain reaction continues. By the time you get to the end of the line, the result is a dramatic spectacle that looks like a giant catapult or rocket launch.
Dominos are often used to teach children the basics of math, as they can be arranged into lines and shapes that add up to specific numbers. Some children like to line them up and then knock them down in a row, while others enjoy using them to create artistic designs or to play games that involve arranging them in a certain way.
Hevesh’s fascination with domino began in childhood, but it wasn’t until she began studying architecture that she realized just how incredibly complex they are. She now specializes in designing and building 3-D structures from dominoes, with the goal of creating complex structures that are aesthetically pleasing while still functioning. Hevesh carefully tests out each section of her installation before putting it together, and she films the process so that she can make precise corrections if something isn’t working correctly.
She’s found that a key to making her creations work is understanding the domino effect. Whenever she creates a new scene, she thinks of it as a domino that can push on the scenes that come after it. She says that her favorite part of the whole process is watching the dominoes tumble—literally and figuratively—in their natural rhythm.
When it comes to writing, the domino effect can help you understand the nuances of your plot. If you’re a pantster (a writer who doesn’t use an outline or Scrivener to help guide your work), the domino principle can be helpful for weeding out scenes that aren’t working at all, or that don’t have enough logical impact on the scene ahead of them.