The Domino Effect


The domino effect is a phenomenon that occurs when one small action sets off a chain reaction with a much larger impact. It’s an idea popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, The Tipping Point. Gladwell describes the domino effect as “a single event that dramatically increases the likelihood of other, similar events occurring.” He gives the example of someone who makes their bed every day: the action is minor but has a dramatic impact. That’s because when someone makes their bed, it inspires them to continue to do so.

Domino is also the name of a popular game of chance and skill played with a set of small rectangular blocks, each bearing a number of spots or dots resembling those on dice. The game has been around for a long time, and the word domino is now in many languages. The English and French words originated in the 1750s, but the name and the game may have roots even farther back. In both languages, the word originally referred to a hooded cloak worn with a mask at carnival season or at a masquerade. It’s possible that the domino piece—which was often black contrasting with a white surplice—inspired the hooded robe.

There are many different ways to play domino, but the most basic Western games involve two or four players. The pieces are arranged on a table, and each player draws at random the number of dominoes needed to win—usually seven. The remaining dominoes are stacked face down in the center of the table, called the boneyard or, in American usage, the stock. The heaviest domino is played first, and other players follow in turn. The winner is the first person to build a line of seven dominoes from their stock, or “boneyard,” across the board.

In addition to standard blocks, some sets include specialty items such as curved lines that form pictures when they fall, grids that create patterns, and 3D structures like towers and pyramids. Creating such artwork requires careful planning, since the dominoes must be placed exactly where they will fall to create the desired design. In addition, the dominoes must be kept upright, and each piece needs to be matched with another domino that will complement it and complete the design.

Most modern dominoes are made from polymer, but in the past they were also made of materials like bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory, and ebony with contrasting black or white pips. Other natural materials such as stone, marble, granite, soapstone, and wood have been used in recent years for more sophisticated sets that are sometimes a little heavier than their polymer counterparts. Such traditional sets have a more pleasing look, and can be less likely to slip under the pressure of a domino that’s been positioned incorrectly. There are even a few sets that use frosted glass or crystal for an extra-fancy look. These sets are not very common though, and tend to be considerably more expensive than the standard polymer-based ones.