When we hear the word domino, it’s usually in connection with a game played with a set of these small blocks. The rules of these games vary, but the common theme is that a single tile can cause a series of subsequent actions and events to occur.
A domino is a rectangular piece of wood or plastic with a blank or dotted face. There are typically 28 pieces in a standard domino set, though some manufacturers make larger sets with more than 100 or even 200 tiles. The word may also refer to the game itself, or a country expected to react in a certain way as the result of a given event—for example, “The situation in Indochina is like a domino that has been tipped over,” writes historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
There are many different games that can be played with dominoes, and the rules of these games vary from place to place. Some games are very complex and require strategic thinking, while others are simpler and more tactical. In addition to these strategy-based games, some people enjoy using dominoes for artistic or decorative purposes. Some people create straight or curved lines of dominoes that make patterns when they fall, while others construct 3D structures such as towers and pyramids.
The most familiar and popular domino games are those that involve blocking, scoring, or removing other pieces from the board. However, dominoes are also used for solitaire games that are adaptations of card games and were once popular in areas where religious proscriptions against playing cards applied.
While the most popular dominoes are made of ivory, bone, or silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), other materials and combinations have been used. The natural look of these pieces appeals to some players, and the quality of craftsmanship involved is often impressive. For these reasons, dominoes made of natural materials are sometimes referred to as “antique” or “vintage.”
Dominoes are normally joined with the line of play either lengthwise (end to end) or across it, depending on the game being played. The end that is with the line of play is called a “spinner,” and the other, which is not a spinner, is called the “non-spinner.”
Most sets of dominoes contain only the most basic number of ends, but many people extend their sets by adding additional tiles with more pips. The most common extended sets are double-nine, double- twelve, and double- fifteen. There are even larger extensions, but these are rarely used and would be impractical for most domino games.