Joe Parks has been building for as long as he and his family can remember. First it was with blocks, then came Legos, and finally dominoes.
Now he finds himself as part of a small but enthusiastic group of domino builders determined to set and break records and post their exploits online.
Recently, Joe, 13, built a domino structure 50 feet long, a length that he said set a world record. Although it's unclear whether that can be verified, no one is disputing it.
The All Saints Episcopal School eighth-grader also said he held the previous record with his 35-foot-long domino cube.
“It makes me feel amazing just thinking out of everybody in the world I have the longest and that nobody's ever beat it before,” Joe said.
For the past year, Joe slowly has been building his repertoire of domino skills. A look at his YouTube channel chronicles his skill level development from the more simplistic walls, cubes and designs, to elaborate mosaics, multi-section designs and half pyramids.
“Usually I get ideas from other people's videos, but ones like this I come up with myself,” Joe said of his most recent design. “It just takes a lot of thinking.”
For his most recent build, Joe spent 16 hours over three days working on the project. Built in the All Saints Davis Gym, the structure required about 10,000 dominoes and included some single lines, pyramids, curves and straight lines.
It also featured a domino fall wall that Joe built and the 50-foot record-setting domino structure built nine dominoes high and several across.
During the fall, which took about 2 1/2 minutes in all, the dominoes stopped twice in the final stretch requiring Joe to knock down a domino again.
He said sometimes that happens but it doesn't affect his records because he is just looking at the structure itself and not anything related to the fall.
“What I enjoy seeing is like the final product, how whatever you did turns out,” said Joe, who has three other siblings, none of whom share his love for building with dominoes. “I also enjoy the time it takes to build it because that makes it more impressive, if you spent a lot of time.”
As far as Joe remembers, he was 4 when he found a Lego set his parents were going to give him for Christmas and started playing with it. He built and took apart designs repeatedly and acquired more sets.
About a year ago he saw a YouTube video of a domino build and decided it would be fun to start using those.
He sold his Lego sets for about $500 and used the money to buy more dominoes. The 13,000 dominoes he owns today cost about $1,300.
Most of them are ordered from a German woman who makes them. They are smooth with sharp edges and lack the dots of traditional playing dominoes. They also come in multiple colors and are slightly smaller than regular dominoes.
Joe builds about a structure a week, spending two to three hours daily on designs during the school year. During the summer months, he tries to spend four to five hours a day building, but he said that's hard to do sometimes with vacation and other activities.
Two 8-by-4-foot fiber boards form the foundation for his designs. As he builds atop those, he sets about his task with intensity.
“I think it amazes me how much patience (he has),” his twin sister Jenna said, adding that she doesn't usually help him, which Joe is fine with. “He likes it better when it's quiet so he can focus.”
Joe's mother, Julie Parks, said through the hobby he has learned additional skills, such as how to edit video and post it to YouTube, and how to convert U.S. dollars to Euros because he purchases his dominoes from Germany.
“We love that he does it because the alternative is playing video games and watching TV all day, so he's using his mind,” Ms. Parks said.
Joe said he plans to continue building domino structures during his free time as he gets older and his goal is to become one of the best domino builders on YouTube.
Although he might not have that much competition from his fellow Americans, he said there are a lot of Germans who build.
When it comes to career opportunities, he plans to use his mind for design in the field of architecture.
But until then, he will set about trying to build more elaborate designs and set more records.
Joe said he is motivated by thinking about how many people are going to watch his videos on YouTube and how many views or comments he is going to get.
However, he also hopes that people draw some inspiration for their own lives from his work.
“(I want) for them to come up with their own ideas so they can come up with creative ideas to stand out,” he said.