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Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki! Today, the wiki is in read-only mode to allow for a hosting migration. Please enjoy reading all our xkcd explanations. We have an explanation for all 1 xkcd comics, and only 0 (0%) are incomplete. Help us finish them!

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Name Dominoes
In competition, you can only play a name if you know who the person is. No fair saying "Frank ... Johnson. That sounds like a real person! Let me just Google him real quick."
Title text: In competition, you can only play a name if you know who the person is. No fair saying "Frank ... Johnson. That sounds like a real person! Let me just Google him real quick."

A large version of the comic picture can be found here.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by a Domino: Do NOT delete this tag too soon. Someone should create 1) a table with all names with wiki links and explanation, especially on inside jokes and 2) a full transcript... and good luck with that. The transcript should not have wiki links they are for the table!

Dominoes is a family of boardgames played with rectangular "domino" tiles. A domino tile is divided into two squares, each displaying a number. Under most rules, a domino tile is placed on the table adjacent to another tile, and the adjacent ends must match in some way (namely by the number displayed on the touching ends). Randall's "name dominoes" shows a set of domino tiles with people's names instead of numbers, and adjacent tiles are matched by whether the closest name is the same (such as how Chris Evans' family name matches Evan Taylor Jones' given name).

The title text spells out a rule that a player may only place a tile if they know who that person is. This is a variation of a rule in Scrabble, where a player loses a turn if their chosen word don't survive a dictionary challenge over the validity of the word. This rule implies that players are allowed to create new name dominoes tiles and that it is not a fixed set. In this case the player that is challenged has used the name Frank Johnson of which there are 12 exact matches on Wikipedia along with six with a middle name and more. In a google search as of the day the comic came out the first hit was Frank Johnson who is a retired American professional basketball player and coach. Randall has made several references to basketball in his comics.

A large board is covered in rectangular "dominoes", with each domino bearing the name of a well-known person or character. The dominoes are arranged as if a game of dominoes were being played, but instead of the game requiring the number of spots of adjacent dominoes to match up, this game requires adjacent names to match up. Because most people have two or more names, different matches are made at each end of a domino. Fun fact is that at least one of the people is "named after" the game: Domino Harvey. The match can be exact (e.g., "Kevin" on one domino adjacent to "Kevin" on another), homonymic (e.g., "Klein" adjacent to "Kline"), or nickname-based (e.g., "James" adjacent to "Jimmy", which in turn is adjacent to "Jim"). Sometimes last names are matched up with first names (e.g., "Elizabeth Warren" adjacent to "Warren Beatty"), and in some cases only a single name is used (e.g., "Columbo", "Drake", "Garfield", "Prince"), in which case a half-size square "domino" might be used, or it might be a full size one ("Batman", "Garnet", "Superman"). Some people have three or more names (e.g., Frank Lloyd Wright), in which case a 50% longer than normal domino results and matching to a middle name (Lloyd) is possible. There doesn't appear to be absolute consistency on the length of the domino vs the number of words in the name.

The figures named come from a wide variety of fields: scientists (e.g., Isaac Newton), historical figures (George Washington), musicians (Drake), politicians (John Kerry), actors (Kevin Costner), writers (Washington Irving), fashion designers (Oscar de la Renta), and so on. Most of the names are real people but a few are fictional characters, possibly non-human (Super Grover).

In at least one case it is not entirely clear who is being referred to: "John Kelly" most likely refers to Gen. John F. Kelly, Donald Trump's chief of staff, but the name is extremely common and could equally refer to any number of people.

One notable reference beyond just the use of a name is in the bottom left, there is the connection [ William Safire ][ Garnet ][ Ruby, Jack ]. At first the only connection seems to be that Sapphire, Garnet and Ruby are all gemstones. At first this seems to be an incorrect connection as for the rules of the game. However, this is in reference to the character Garnet in the cartoon Steven Universe, who is a "fusion" formed by two Gems: Ruby and Sapphire, hence the legal connection in the Name Dominoes... Randall has previously made references to this universe in 1608: Hoverboard. (See this and this image from that comic).

Another potential mismatch is Topher Grace, where "Topher" is matched to several instances of "Chris," and both names may be shortenings of "Christopher."

Table of names

  • Work in progress
    • The number # should refer to a picture with numbered tiles...
Domino Notability and notes Connections Mode #
Alistair Cookie A parody of Alistair Cooke "played" by Cookie Monster in the Sesame Street sketch "Monsterpiece Theatre" in the 1980s, a parody of the PBS series "Masterpiece Theatre". James Cook

Alastair Reynolds

Last-Last (approximate)

First-First (approximate)

James Cook 18th century British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy. Alistair Cooke

Cokie Roberts
Alistair Cookie
James Fenimore Cooper

Last-Last (approximate)

Last-First (approximate)
Last-Last (approximate)

Chris Columbus Film director and screenwriter. Columbo

Christopher Columbus
Chris Hughes

Last-Only (approximate)

First-First (approximate) and Last-Last

Christian Campbell
Neve Campbell
Joseph Campbell
Joseph Smith
Etta James 1
Etta James 2
Joe McCarthy
Eugene McCarthy
Gene Vincent
Gene Kelly
John Kelly
Katherine Johnson
Kate Hudson
Rock Hudson
The Rock
Chris Rock
Chris Isaac
Isaac Newton
James Newton Howard
James Brown
Gordon Brown
Jon Brown
John Wayne
John Howard
Howard Stern
Howard Hunt
Helen Hunt
Helen Hughes
Chris Hughes
Christopher Columbus
Helen Thomas
Tom Hanks
Hank Aaron
Aaron Carter
Hank Williams
Robin Williams
Billy D. Williams
William C. Williams
Robin Wright
Will Wright
Wilbur Wright
Tom Brady
Wayne Brady
Wayne Knight
Wayne Newton
Wayne Howard
Isaac Hayes
Oscar Isaac
Oscar the Grouch
Oscar de la Hoya
Oscar de la Renta
Lyndon Johnson
Frank Drake
Lisa Frank
Francis Drake
Frank Vincent
Francis Bacon
Kevin Bacon
Kevin Costner
Kevin Love
Kevin Smith
Kevin Kline
Naomi Klein
Naomi Watts
James Watt (Steam)
James Watt (Interior)
Stephen James
Steve Harvey
Domino Harvey
Harvey Milk
Will Smith
Kein James
James Saint James
James Garfield
Etta James
Jimmy Buffett
Warren Buffett
Warren Beatty
Elizabeth Warren
Earl Warren
Eliabeth Kolbert
Stephen Colbert
James Earl Jones
James Earl Ray
Man Ray
Ray Parker Jr.
Rachel Ray
Ray Charles
Charles Manson
Charlie Parker
Charles Wallace
Wallace Shawn
Sean Hayes
George Wallace
Marilyn Manson
Marilyn Monroe
James Monroe
James Brady


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[This comic shows names overlayed onto black domino tiles, arranged so that each touching side corresponds with the first or last name of another person. Some of the domino tiles are rotated 90 degrees or are upside down.]
[The names include (sometimes repeated):]
Christian Campbell, Neve Campbell, Joseph Campbell, Joseph Smith, Etta James (2x (so far)), Joe McCarthy, Eugene McCarthy, Gene Vincent, Gene Kelly, John Kelly, Katherine Johnson, Kate Hudson, Rock Hudson, The Rock, Chris Rock, Chris Isaac, Isaac Newton, James Newton Howard, James Brown, Gordon Brown, Jon Brown, John Wayne, John Howard, Howard Stern, Howard Hunt, Helen Hunt, Helen Hughes, Chris Hughes, Chris Columbus, Christopher Columbus, Columbo, Helen Thomas, Tom Hanks, Hank Aaron, Aaron Carter, Hank Williams, Robin Williams, Billy D. Williams, William C. Williams, Robin Wright, Will Wright, Wilbur Wright, Tom Brady, Wayne Brady, Wayne Knight, Wayne Newton, Wayne Howard, Isaac Hayes, Oscar Isaac, Oscar the Grouch, Oscar de la Hoya, Oscar de la Renta, Lyndon Johnson, Drake, Frank Drake, Lisa Frank, Francis Drake, Frank Vincent, Francis Bacon, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Costner, Kevin Love, Kevin Smith, Kevin Kline, Naomi Klein, Naomi Watts, James Watt (Steam), James Watt (Interior), Stephen James, Steve Harvey, Domino Harvey, Harvey Milk, Will Smith, Kein James, James Saint James, James Garfield, Garfield, Etta James, Jimmy Buffett, Warren Buffett, Warren Beatty, Elizabeth Warren, Earl Warren, Eliabeth Kolbert, Stephen Colbert, James Earl Jones, James Earl Ray, Man Ray, Ray Parker Jr., Rachel Ray, Ray Charles, Charles Manson, Charlie Parker, Charles Wallace, Wallace Shawn, Sean Hayes, George Wallace, Marilyn Manson, Marilyn Monroe, James Monroe, James Brady,

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