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Dominoes – Endless Possibilities!

"dominoes" by Tafkabecky (Becky Bokern) is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Dominoes – some history, some science, and the endless possibilities for fun and creativity!

We got very excited about what you can do with Dominoes when we heard that our good friends at Ashland Independent Film Festival were closing their festival with Lily Topples the World, an amazing film about 20-year-old sensation Lily Hevesh, the world’s most acclaimed domino toppler and YouTube star (with over 1 billion views.) The documentary won Documentary Feature Grand Jury Award at SXSW and plays at AIFF2021 April 29.

"dominoes" by Tafkabecky (Becky Bokern) is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

“Dominoes” by Tafkabecky (Becky Bokern) is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

We got very excited about what you can do with Dominoes when we heard that our good friends at Ashland Independent Film Festival were closing their festival with Lily Topples the World, an amazing film about 20-year-old sensation Lily Hevesh, the world’s most acclaimed domino toppler and YouTube star (with over 1 billion views.) The documentary won Documentary Feature Grand Jury Award at SXSW and plays at AIFF2021 April 29.

Nope, we’re not talking about pizza today; we’re talking about the pieces of tile with dots on them that can be aligned in many different ways, or stood on edge in a really long line ready to be knocked down – depending on what game you’re playing. When you think about toys and games, most come and go with changing fads, but a handful manage to stand the test of time and stick around through generations. One such tried-and-true item is the Domino. Who would have thought that the small, rectangular pieces adorned with varying numbers of dots and a dash in the middle would make its way to the very small list of toys and games that never get old?

A little bit of history

While dominoes started to become popular in 1700’s Europe, they have actually been around for much longer than that. The Yuan Dynasty in China was the first to write of domino tiles in the mid to late 1200’s, and some say they were developed as an alternative to dice. Since their first appearance, dominoes have been made from many different materials including ivory, stone, metal, wood, glass, and more recently, plastic.

Dominoes first came on the scene as a set of marked pieces that can be used for playing multiple kinds of games; Straight Dominoes, Chickenfoot, Moon, and Spinner are just some examples. Intrigued? Good! If you’re interested in finding out more about the plethora of games you can enjoy with a set of dominoes, there are many resources online that list game summaries with rules and strategies.

A very interesting and more recently popular phase of domino history includes the domino show – the strategy (and art) of standing dominoes on end in a certain pattern that, when toppled in the intended way, leads to a specific result or detailed design. Just ask 5-time World Record holder Robert Speca, who is credited with creating the Domino Toppling category in the Guinness Book of World Records. As the years go on, avid domino topplers get more creative and bolder with their designs, reaching for new heights, huge numbers of dominoes, and amazing effects from start to finish.

 

The science behind dominoes

We have likely all heard the term “The Domino Effect”, and we probably have a grasp on the meaning, but let’s dive into the definition and how it relates to the little rectangular tiles. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines The Domino Effect as “a cumulative effect produced when one event initiates a succession of smaller events”. So, what does this mean when you’re talking about toppling actual dominoes? Let’s break it down: the “one event” refers to the very first domino being toppled over; the “succession of smaller events” refers to every single domino toppling after that; and the “cumulative effect” refers to how every single domino is involved, one after the other, in creating the final result.

Now that we get the toppling sequence, let’s talk about what is happening from domino to domino. Thanks to the many professionals from fields like mathematics and physics who actually study dominoes, we now know the mechanisms at play (pun intended) in toppling dominoes. Everything comes down to energy and the transfer of energy from domino to domino. This is demonstrated by the graphic below. A stationary domino standing on its end is full of potential energy, caused by gravity (orange arrow). When the first domino is toppled, the initial kinetic energy from the push (green arrow) is combined with the force of gravity, which results in increased kinetic energy, or energy of motion (red arrow). The kinetic energy from the falling domino is combined with the stored potential energy of the next domino, resulting in even more kinetic energy as the second domino falls. This chain reaction of potential energy plus kinetic energy continues until all the dominoes in the setup have been toppled over.

It turns out that potential energy in a domino can do some really big things. Check out this work of a physicist in the Netherlands, Hans van Leeuwen, and a science quiz show group who decided to test his mathematical equation. They successfully toppled a hollow domino that was 26 feet tall!

A career in Dominoes?

Much like those first kids who told their parents they were going to be professional LEGO builders when they grew up, Lily Hevesh might have surprised her family and friends with aspirations of pursuing domino art. Lily has been playing with dominoes since she was 9 years old and has been making more and more wonderful, colorful and meaningful creations as time goes on. What she didn’t expect was the interest the rest of the world would share in her passion for dominoes. From stacking and balancing challenges to complex Rube Goldberg-like setups, Lily is pushing the boundaries of domino art and loving every minute of it. Perhaps her affinity for the 8 gram brick will start a chain reaction in a new generation of domino artists.

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