Dominoes are small, rectangular pieces of wood, ivory, or synthetic material that can be stacked on end in long lines to form elaborate structures and games. They are usually twice as long as they are wide, and they feature a line in the middle to divide them visually into two squares. Each side of a domino bears an arrangement of dots (also called pips) or numbers that range from six pips down to none or blank. A domino’s value is indicated by its total number of spots or pips and may be described as higher or lower than another domino depending on its rank, or weight.

Dominos can be used for many different purposes, from a game of chance to building intricate and detailed works of art. They can be arranged to form straight lines, curved lines, grids that form pictures when they fall, or 3D structures like towers and pyramids. They can also be grouped to create shapes, and many people use them to decorate their homes or businesses with unique patterns and designs.

Some dominoes are molded and colored to make them more attractive, while others have natural, unfinished surfaces. Most sets of dominoes are made from polymer materials such as polyester or acrylic, although there are some sets that are made from natural products such as marble or soapstone. There are even some sets that have been carved from woods such as oak, walnut, and redwood; made of solid brass or pewter; or constructed from ceramic clay. These sets often have a more novel or artistic look and are typically more expensive than their polymer counterparts.

The word “domino” is thought to have come from the Latin verb dominare, meaning to dominate. The first known use of the word occurred in France shortly after 1750, though it probably has an earlier sense that refers to a long hooded cloak worn together with a mask at a carnival or masquerade. The term was also sometimes used in English to describe a black piece that contrasted with a white surplice worn by priests.

Traditionally, European domino sets have been made from bone, silver lip ocean pearl oyster shell (mother of pearl), ivory, or dark hardwood such as ebony with contrasting white or black pips inlaid or painted on them. Some sets have a top half thickness in mother of pearl or ivory and a bottom half in ebony, while others have the opposite. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in dominoes made from other natural materials such as stone (e.g., marble, granite or soapstone); other types of woods such as hickory or maple; metals; and even frosted glass.

The rules of domino vary among games, but the underlying principles are similar: each player begins by placing one domino on the edge of the table, and additional tiles are then played to adjoin it. Each additional tile must touch the end of the previous tile in the chain at either the left or right side (a one’s touching a two’s, and so on). If the chains develop a shape such as a snake-line, points are awarded to players if the exposed ends total multiples of five.