The Domino Effect Is So Powerful That Rocks Can Be Broken

The domino effect is much more powerful than you might think. When a single domino is knocked over, it creates ripples that can reach almost a meter wide and weigh more than 100 pounds. The domino effect is so powerful, in fact, that it can even break the hardest of rocks.

Dominoes are a fascinating puzzle of balance and force. They are cousins of playing cards and have a history dating back to the 1300s. Originally, the markings on dominoes, called pips, represented the results of throwing two six-sided dice. Eventually, European dominoes evolved to include seven extra dominoes, representing duplicates of some results, and to divide the dominoes into suits (doubles, threes, fives, and blanks). Today, a typical 28-piece European-style domino set contains all the possible combinations of pips on each of its sides.

Lily Hevesh began playing with her grandparents’ 28-piece set when she was 9 years old. She loved the challenge of setting up a straight or curved line and flicking the first domino to see it all fall at once. She now makes a living as a professional domino artist, creating mind-blowing setups for movies, TV shows, and events. She also posts YouTube videos of her work.

Hevesh uses a version of the engineering-design process to plan her setups. She starts by considering the theme or purpose of the installation. Then she brainstorms images or words that relate to the idea.

To make sure her designs will work, Hevesh tests each part separately. She sets up a 3-D section and then flat arrangements of the biggest pieces. She films each test in slow motion to spot any problems. She then fixes the sections that don’t work. After her setups are working perfectly, Hevesh puts the rest of the dominoes together in a line.

A domino’s pips determine its value and suit. Each side has a different number of pips from one another, and each pips’ total value is equal to its rank. The highest ranked domino is the double-six. All other dominoes belong to either the three-, five-, or zero-suit.

Thousands of unmoving dominoes stand right where Hevesh has placed them, thanks to their inertia, a property of matter that resists motion until enough outside energy pushes or pulls on it. But a tiny nudge is enough to get the first domino to slip past its tipping point and start to fall. As it moves down the line, the energy from that movement converts to kinetic energy — the energy of motion — and provides the push needed for the next domino to be propelled forward into its path, ultimately collapsing in a chain reaction. The same principle applies to any other physical system.