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A New Game For Dominoes

Robert Bosch, mathematics professor at Oberlin College (Oberlin, OH), uses mathematical optimization techniques to create pictures, portraits and sculpture. I know, that was a mouthful. Basically, his primary focus is creating what are known as "mathematically formulated domino portrait."

An example is this portrait of Gauss, created by Professor Bosch as part of a Mathematics and Art Festival and it now hangs proudly in the Mathematics Education Laboratory in my University:

It was constructed using all of the dominoes from 48 complete sets of double-nine dominoes. This is a special rule imposed by Professor Bosch, who notes that "better" pictures could be achieved using selected dominoes, but that would not be as fun or challenging.

Ivars Peterson provides an excellent description of the process of creating a domino portrait in his Math Trek column in Science News (April 12, 2003). Start there for a good introduction to the portrait process.

Finally, Professor Bosch has created his own company DominoArtwork.com, which includes additional examples of his artwork. He uses a computer program based on integer programming, a mathematical technique from Operations Research, to place the dominoes.

At his web site, you should check out his "For Educators" option, which includes pdf-downloadable plans for constructing domino portraits of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., the Statue of Liberty, and the Mona Lisa. Or, you can give your students piles of dominoes and see what they can create....I expect their experienced difficulties will add to the appeal of what Professor Bosch accomplishes.

You might also look at Professor Bosch's ventures into Op Art, some puzzles he has created, or even have your own domino portrait made on-line. He is doing some very interesting things using mathematical techniques that can be brought into mathematics classrooms.