Dominoes, also called bones, cards, men or tiles, are one of the world’s oldest tools for game play. Whether they are being played at professional domino game competitions or by a family on a lazy Sunday afternoon, dominoes offer an excellent way to entertain and test the skills of players and their patience. They are especially popular for their ability to create exciting sequences of events in which dominoes are tossed over one by one until a chain reaction has produced the last domino standing.

The identity of a domino is determined by its markings, which are arranged in squares on both sides of the tile and are called pips (see the photo). A domino’s value ranges from six to blank, and the number of pips on a particular side determines the suit of that domino. The most common domino sets are double-six, with 28 tiles and a double-nine set, with 55. Larger sets exist, and these are often used for games involving several players or for longer domino games such as layout games.

Each domino is usually twice as long as it is wide, which makes them easier to re-stack after use. They are usually arranged in a stack, with the top surface flat and the lower surface curved. A domino has a line in the middle, which divides it visually into two squares. Each of these squares is marked with an arrangement of pips, which may be different from each other. The number of pips on each side, or face, determines the suit of that domino.

Dominos come in many materials, but the most popular are plastic and polymer clay. Other types of materials include woods such as mahogany, cherry and oak; stone (e.g., marble, granite and soapstone); metals such as brass and pewter; and ceramic clay, which is often frosted for a more novel look. In the past, many different natural materials were used for domino sets. Some sets are made of bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory or a dark hardwood such as ebony, with contrasting pips inlaid or painted on each piece.

Traditionally, dominoes have been used to play a variety of games, including draw, draw and pass, and blocking. Dominoes can also be used as the basis for puzzles and other mechanical exhibits such as Rube Goldberg machines.

The word domino has a number of meanings, originating first from the Latin dominus (“master”), then from the French domine (“dominant”). Interestingly, this is how it was pronounced in medieval England and France, where domino became the name of a type of monastic hood and later of a hooded mask worn by certain members of the clergy in winter. In the late 18th Century, domino began to appear in British taverns and inns as a game that was played at tables. These early domino puzzles were of two types: the first required matched ends, and the second involved placing tiles based on the arithmetic properties of their pips.