Planning is about to meet execution. You can’t move a muscle, you can hardly breathe, lest you (or one errant sneeze) accidentally lay to waste your hours spent slaving over piece after endless piece. But now it is here, the moment of reckoning, as you prepare to fell your arch-rival – the domino, and all the troops behind him. One tiny touch, and clickity-clackity, it’s over.

More than just a child’s garden of cause-and-effect – though the stacking and toppling of them is certainly a staple of American childhood – dominoes are better described as gaming tiles, having originated in China as early as 1120 AD. They are derived from the 21 different pairing possibilities for rolling a duo of six-sided dice.

Originally they were made of bone or ivory with ebony inlaid on the dots. The name “domino” popped up when they arrived in Europe during nineteenth century; it was possibly derived from a similarly-named masquerade mask, while Another etymological theory considers that the domino is also the French word for a monk’s hood, which were double-faced in white and black. Modern dominoes are much less likely to be crafted from the endangered animals; most companies manufacture the tiles out of wood or plastic now.

Much like cards, there are a wide array of games that can be played with the traditional spotted tiles. The most common is a blind-draw multiplayer game, with each person matching dominoes end-to-end in a chain. Endless variations include the chicken-scratch (which divides into three directions), the train (which lays them side by side) and several versions of solitaire for lone wolves and the socially ill-equipped.

Domino games are an enjoyable way to pass the time, but what we really prefer to do as a species is set them up and knock them over, in what is known as a domino show. And the more, the merrier. An official set of dominoes contains a mere 28 tiles, but a domino show can use from dozens to hundreds of thousands. In case you were wondering, the World Record as of this writing is 4,345,027.

Most of us weren’t professional topplers though. We simply gathered as many boxes as would could and started stacking them on the kitchen table. The more ambitious you were, the more you needed the steady hands of surgeon. One poorly-timed flinch of the wrist could undo minutes, hours or days of work. Once they were all in place, the time of reckoning had arrived. The object was to leave no domino standing, and you only got one chance to test your efforts. Push the first one and either bask in the glory or go back to the drawing board.

Public domino shows were performed in the 70s and are held around the world to this day. And although the game itself may not be as prominent as it once was, dominoes have managed to work their way into our culture, from phrases like the “domino effect” to musicians Fats Domino and Derek and the Dominoes, to the pizza chain with the red and blue domino on every box.

Whether used for family game night, or by spending the day stacking them from end to end, one thing is clear – these little black and white spotted rectangles have brought people countless hours of enjoyment for a very long time. And that makes them more than worthy of mention.

Did you play with dominoes as a kid, either as a game or by topping them? We’d love to hear all of your thoughts and memories of these timeless toys in our comment section below.

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