A domino is a rectangular piece of wood or other material bearing an arrangement of dots, or “pips,” on one side and a blank or identically patterned other. When the ends of two dominoes match, they may be played to form a line that extends in either direction. This configuration is called a layout, string, or line of play. If a tile is played to a double, it must be placed cross-ways across that end of the line.
Each player draws a number of dominoes for his hand and then plays them according to the rules of the game being played. Depending on the game, the player who draws the heaviest domino makes the first play. This player is sometimes referred to as the setter, the downer, or the leader.
Besides determining who will make the first play, a game’s rules may also specify who must buy tiles from the stock or pass on a turn. In some games, the losers are determined by counting the pips of the remaining dominoes in the players’ hands at the end of a hand or the game. Other games may require that all players chip out, or play their last domino, before the winners are determined. In this case, the winning players are the partners whose combined total of all the spots on their remaining dominoes is lowest.
A domino can also be used as a model of nerve cells, or neurons, in the body. When a domino is struck, it sends a pulse of energy traveling down the row to the next domino and then on to its neighbor. This is similar to the way a nerve impulse travels down a nerve cell, or axon, to its end.
In addition to playing dominoes, many people use the word to describe any event or phenomenon that resembles a chain reaction. For example, a newspaper columnist named Nick Alsop once wrote that a political dictator might cause a series of events that would lead to his overthrow and control of a region. This phenomenon was later referred to as the domino effect, a term that has come to refer to any situation where one small trigger can cause a series of events.
The word domino is derived from the Latin verb domini, meaning “to dominate.” Earlier senses of this word denoted a long hooded cloak worn together with a mask at a carnival or masquerade and a cape worn by a priest over his surplice. The earliest recorded usage of the term in English was in 1750. In French, the word had an even earlier sense referring to a drapery material of black velvet over white cloth. The word and the game are both thought to have been brought to England from France. Both the name and the game have been popular in England ever since. The game of domino is now very popular around the world. In fact, there are many different types of domino games and the game has been adapted for use with a wide variety of devices, including electronic and computerized equipment.