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The domino effect: Ellicott City resident takes reins of topple event held at Maryland Science Center

Ellicott City resident Chase Blanchette doesn’t consider himself to be an expert in domino toppling. The 20-year-old has much more experience working on Rube Goldberg machines — a chain-reaction-type of machine designed to do a simple task in an exaggerated way, like the children’s game of Mousetrap, for example.

Yet, he has always liked dominoes and, when he was 13, he made his move to learn more when he gave Scott Suko, the creator of the Domino Day event at the Maryland Science Center, his email address to see if he could help.

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“I thought it was a cool thing to do,” Blanchette said, who never imagined he would actually get to work on the domino display or that seven years later he would be in charge of this year’s event, happening in Baltimore on Sunday.

“I wanted to do this hand-off,” said Suko, of Dayton, who is turning his focus to curling, his new hobby. “Chase has been involved with the domino community and is a YouTube expert. He can take it over.”

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Within minutes and using a minimal amount of dominoes, Blanchette can create numerous structures — pyramids, walls, a slow-stone topple — and then trigger each one to fall, all while talking with Suko about various techniques.

“It is chain-reaction art,” Blanchette said. “It has a narrative to it. Every time a topple is set up, it is unique and will never fall again. You could rebuild, but why would you? There are new tricks.”

Blanchette uses plastic dominoes for his creations, not wood, as they are lighter, cut more precisely and can build bigger towers. Depending on the designs, dominoes can be taped so they don’t slide after they tumble.

For the science center’s domino topple, Suko and Blanchette use both wood and plastic dominoes, as well as other items, such as bridges and pop-up flowers, that they incorporate into the design. Past creations have been dominoes forming the shape of a human body, with blue and red dominoes representing veins and arteries. Other designs formed a Celtic knot, the Maryland state flag and an asteroid hitting Earth.

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“Scott’s event has a distinct style,” Blanchette said. “It has new people every year. That’s the goal.”

From its start in 2011, the domino event was designed to have local engineers and the community working together, said Suko, an engineer who first started creating domino topples in high school in New York. He then went on to create topples for commercials, television (he was featured on “Martha Stewart Living”) and world records before scaling back on his domino “job” in 2006 to focus on family.

“It was really great that Scott found us and pushed us to do it,” said Val Sullivan, marketing assistant for the Maryland Science Center. “It has really evolved.”

About 500 people attended the first domino event, and recent audiences have grown to 2,000. While there is plenty of room to watch the event from the center’s open, three-level lobby, Sullivan doubts the crowd will reach that level this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“The building is so large [that] we do not have capacity issues,” Sullivan said, and the center is following all city and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in terms of COVID-19. As per Baltimore’s current guidelines, masks are required for all visitors, regardless of vaccination status.

The event will be streamed live on the science center’s Facebook page at facebook.com/marylandsciencecenter, and Blanchette will post a video of it afterward on his YouTube channel at youtube.com/thergmguy01. The entire event runs from noon to 4 p.m.

Besides the topple, a variety of special events and activities will be held throughout the building, Sullivan said, with everything revolving around this year’s theme of STEAM, or science, technology, engineering, art and math.

“We’ll have stations where kids can do other engineering activities and explore building things,” Sullivan said. “The event is sponsored by Domino Sugar. Using microscopes, you can see what sugar crystals look like up close.”

Suko plans to still be a part of the domino event but just as a volunteer.

“I’m very happy he’s taking over,” Suko said. “He can use all of my supplies. I will continue to help make it a success.”

Blanchette is majoring in engineering at California Institute of Technology, which operates on the quarter system with three sessions from late September through early June, giving him time to organize the display. Blanchette, who will return to California for his junior year shortly after the event, said he is excited for this challenge.

“I have many ideas,” Blanchette said. “I don’t plan to let it die.”

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