Wonder of the Day: Dominoes Moved by Gravity


Dominoes are small black-and-white rectangles that some children like to arrange in long rows and knock over. Others use them as a tool to teach basic arithmetic. Still others use them for more elaborate projects, such as building towers or pyramids. Today’s Wonder of the Day is inspired by an incredible domino artist, Lily Hevesh, who has used her skills to create mind-blowing displays that feature curved lines, grids that form pictures, and even 3D structures. Hevesh says that one physical phenomenon, in particular, is key to her impressive setups: gravity. Watch the video below to learn more about how a domino can be moved by gravity, causing another domino to fall in the process.

Hevesh first started playing with dominoes when she was 9 years old, when her grandparents gave her a classic 28-piece set. From there, her collection grew, and she began posting videos of her creations online. In time, she developed into a professional domino artist, creating sets for movies, TV shows, and events, including an album launch for pop star Katy Perry. She also has a popular YouTube channel where she shares her tricks of the trade.

For the most part, dominoes are arranged to play positional games, in which each player takes turns placing a tile edge to edge against another in such a way that the adjacent faces either match each other (e.g., two fives) or add up to some specific total (e.g., six). Most dominoes are marked with numbers on their ends to indicate their value; however, a few sets have more readable markings such as Arabic numerals.

The most popular domino game involves two players and a double-six set of dominoes. Each player draws seven tiles from the stock, called the boneyard, and places them on their side of the table. When the player has a tile that matches the value of a domino already on the board, they play it. They continue playing tiles until their opponents can’t play any more or until one player has won by having all of their dominoes played.

Dominoes can also be used to demonstrate the “domino effect,” which states that a small change in one behavior will cause a chain reaction that affects other behaviors as well. For example, studies have shown that when people decrease their amount of sedentary leisure time each day, they tend to increase their exercise and lower their fat intake as a result. This is a good reminder that it’s often the little things in life that can have big impacts.

Though the origin of the word “domino” is not clear, it may refer to a garment used with a mask during carnival season or at a masquerade. In its earliest sense, the word was probably used to describe a long hooded cloak worn over a priest’s surplice. In the late 18th century, domino became a generic term for a game played with ebony domino pieces and ivory-colored pawns.