Using Dominoes As a Writing Tool


Dominoes are small rectangular blocks that have a number of dots, or pegs, in one row across and another row down. In the United States, dominoes are generally used for positional games that involve arranging the tiles on edge to edge against each other in such a way that adjacent sides match or form some specified total. Dominoes are also popular components in Rube Goldberg machines.

The word “domino” comes from the Latin term for “falling.” When a first domino is tipped ever so slightly, it transmits kinetic energy to the next domino, which then gives the next its own push and so on, until the last domino tumbles over, bringing the whole chain of events to an end. Dominoes can be arranged to form straight lines, curved lines, grids that create pictures when they fall and even 3-D structures like towers and pyramids.

Using dominoes as a tool for learning mathematics can help students understand the commutative property of addition, in which the order of adding addends is irrelevant. For example, the teacher may ask students to choose two dominoes and name the sum of their dots. Afterward, the teacher may show the class that they can rotate the dominoes so that 2+4 is on top of 6+2 and the equation will remain equal.

When writing fiction, authors often try to mimic the Domino Effect: when a character takes an action that causes something else to happen, that cause then triggers other actions to occur in an almost-automatic fashion. If a domino cascade does not work out as intended, the story can feel sloppy or illogical, and readers might lose interest.

For Hevesh, creating a mind-blowing domino set is not so much a matter of physics as it is a form of art. Her designs begin with a theme or purpose, and she brainstorms images that can be represented as dominoes. She then draws a plan for the entire domino installation. For example, if the installation will feature straight lines of dominoes, she will draw arrows to indicate which dominoes should fall first. For more complicated installations, she might sketch out a grid that shows the order in which dominoes should be stacked and plan how each piece will connect to the others.

She makes test versions of her setups and films them in slow motion to see if they will work as she intended. Once the tests prove successful, she assembles the pieces, starting with the largest 3-D sections and then moving on to flat arrangements of dominoes. Her domino art has included words and images, including the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. She also uses her dominoes as a component in kinetic sculptures and has created a domino factory where she teaches people how to build their own sets. The most popular dominoes are plastic, but they can also be made from a variety of other materials such as bone or ivory; dark hardwoods like ebony, mahogany and walnut; brass or pewter; ceramic clay or glass.