Domino is more than just a popular board game. It’s also a metaphor for many of the world’s problems. It’s an expression of how one event can lead to another, like a domino falling and causing all the others to tumble down in a chain reaction. The word’s usage has expanded from its literal meaning as a board game to more of a catchphrase describing causal linkages in complex systems such as global finance or politics.

A domino is a flat, thumb-sized rectangular block with from one to six small dots or pips on each end. A complete set of dominoes consists of 28 such pieces. A domino is typically numbered on both ends, and the numbering begins with the lowest number (for example, a 2-5) and continues up to the highest number. When a domino is played, it must touch the next one in line with either its own number or with the number of its neighbor (for example, a 2-5) — if it touches a higher number, it’s called a double.

The number of dots or pips on a domino is what determines its value in a particular game; the most common value is double-six, but there are a variety of games that use different values and combinations of ends. Some dominoes have blank sides, and these may be ascribed any value the players choose. Depending on the type of game, dominoes are usually arranged in snake-line fashion around the table, with the players drawing their tiles from a collection of shuffled pieces — known as the stock or boneyard — and playing them to develop the chains.

Creating mind-blowing domino arrangements requires a lot of skill, but one physical phenomenon is key: gravity. Hevesh says that’s the force that makes her projects possible. “When a domino is knocked over, much of its potential energy converts to kinetic energy – the energy of motion,” she says. This energy travels to the next domino, giving it the push it needs to fall over, and so on, until all the dominoes have fallen.”

Hevesh uses a variation of an engineering-design process when creating her installations. She creates prototype versions of each section and films them in slow motion to ensure that they work as intended. Once she’s satisfied, she begins putting the sections together, beginning with the 3-D ones and then adding flat arrangements.

Hevesh has created some of the largest Domino’s installations in history, and she once helped to break a Guinness record for the most dominoes toppled in a circle: 76,017. She’s also worked on smaller projects, and they all follow the same principles: “I have to start with a design concept and then think about how to make it,” she says. “Once you have a good plan, it’s just a matter of executing it.” And that takes practice, too.

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