The Domino Effect


Domino, or dominoes, are small rectangular blocks used as game pieces. Variously called bones, men, or stones, the tiles can be stacked on end to create long lines. When one domino in a line is tipped, it causes the others to fall over and often results in a very elaborate design. Stacking dominoes in this manner has led to the popular phrase, the “domino effect,” which describes a series of events that starts with one simple trigger and ends up having much greater–and sometimes catastrophic–consequences.

The term domino has also come to refer to any kind of chain reaction. The first domino in a series can be a car crash or rocket launch, but it can also be the starting point for an argument or even a war. In fact, a famous political column by George Alsop in the 1930s used the example of Communism spreading from country to country like dominoes to explain why America should support South Vietnam over North Vietnam. This article helped coin the idiom domino effect.

Today, the term “domino” is still used to describe a small trigger that sets off a chain reaction of larger consequences. This is a central concept in my book, The Domino Effect: How One Small Thing Can Lead to Massive Change.

In terms of personal growth, we can use the domino effect as a metaphor for finding the one activity that will move other interests forward. Just as a single domino can knock over many other smaller ones, concentrating our energy on a specific activity can help us to get more done and achieve bigger results.

To make these mind-blowing domino setups, Hevesh uses a variation of the engineering-design process. She starts by considering the theme or purpose of an installation, brainstorming images or words she might want to use. She then uses a computer program to map out the layout of the pieces, and finally, she begins creating.

When creating a domino setup, it is important to consider the order of play and the total number of dominoes that will be needed for a particular installation. A typical set has 28 dominoes; each domino has a square of either blank or numbered dots, known as pips, on its two ends. Each domino has a unique number that can be used to identify it when playing games.

A domino set may be extended by adding pieces with additional numbers on the ends. For example, a double-nine set can have up to 55 tiles. The most common extension is a double-twelve, which has 91 dominoes. Even larger sets can theoretically be made, but they are rarely seen in practice. These large sets have more than 20 pips on an end, which would result in a huge mess when trying to play. The largest sets actually seen are a double-18 and a double-21, which have 190 dominoes.