The Domino Effect

A domino is a small rectangular game piece that has anywhere from 0 to 6 dots. It is usually black but can also be white or a different color. Dominos are often stood up to create intricate patterns that look pretty impressive. When one domino is knocked down, it causes hundreds and even thousands of others to fall in a sequence known as the domino effect. This use of dominoes inspired the name for the idea that one event inevitably leads to another, and the word itself has become synonymous with a chain reaction.

A typical domino set has a row of dominoes that are standing upright, with each of the squares numbered. The numbers on each of the dominoes are called pips. They represent the results of throwing two six-sided dice, and each domino has a matching set of pips on its opposite side. The domino with the highest number of pips is the first to fall when a line of dominoes is set up. Then, each domino is tipped over by the next in line until the whole chain is finished.

In some games, the ends of a domino are pointed and can touch only other matched ends. A line of dominoes may be a snake-line or a cross-way pattern. If a domino has a double, its matching end must be perpendicular to the edge of the table or a piece must be placed across it so that both the top and bottom of the double touches the end of the domino being played to.

To create her mind-blowing domino installations, Hevesh follows a version of the engineering-design process. She begins by considering the theme or purpose of the installation, then brainstorms images and words that might relate to it. Once she has a clear concept, she tests out each part of the setup individually before putting it all together. For example, she makes test versions of the biggest 3-D sections of an arrangement and films them in slow motion to check that each works well.

Physicist Stephen Morris explains that when a domino is standing upright, it has potential energy. This is because each of its pips is facing up, lifting it against the pull of gravity. But when a domino is tipped over, much of this potential energy is converted to kinetic energy, the energy of motion. Some of this kinetic energy is transmitted to the next domino in the line, providing the push it needs to knock it over as well.

When a story’s scene dominoes are spaced properly, the result is a seamless cascade of events that move the hero closer to or farther from their goal. The pace of the domino effect is important, however, so that the reader doesn’t feel overwhelmed by too many scenes or underwhelmed by too few. In the case of a story, the scene dominoes must be just right: short enough to move the hero forward without bogging down the narrative, yet long enough to make the scenes feel real and powerful.