Hit & Run: Domino effect

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The Independent Online

They come over here, these American celebrities, and hijack our working-class pursuits. Brad Pitt has long been a fan of greyhound racing. Madonna's still fond, despite her recent marital difficulties, of wearing flat caps and drinking bitter. Even Barack Obama is rumoured to be following the fortunes of West Ham United.

Now the world's biggest stars have found another great British proletarian tradition to make over: dominoes. The unglamorous parlour game, which has for generations been the preserve of old men in tobacco-stained pubs, has suddenly become one of the most fashionable pursuits in Hollywood.

At the weekend, Ridley Scott, Sienna Miller, Eva Herzigova, and Tom Hollander could all be found at a charity domino tournament at Mosimann's in Belgravia. Salma Hayek, Jeremy Piven and Jessica Alba were playing at the Edison Ballroom in New York. Charlize Theron was racking up chips in Beverly Hills.

Not, of course, that this glamorous array of celebrities was enjoying the dusty old pastime invented by the Chinese in the 1400s. Instead, they were endorsing a shiny new version being marketed by the multinational entertainment firm Hasbro as Hollywood Domino.

This game – which hits UK and US toy stores this Christmas - can be traced back to the actress Salma Hayek, who several years ago began hosting domino evenings at home for a circle of friends, including the likes of Demi Moore and Penelope Cruz.

Over time, the story goes, they began adapting the rules to make it faster and more strategic. At which point, two of the regular members of Hayek's circle, an actress called Daya Fernandez, and a Hollywood PR called Inge Theron decided to develop a fully fledged board game that mere civilians could enjoy.

"Poker isolates women, and bridge evenings have such fuddy-duddy connotations," says Theron. "Dominoes is different. It's fast and fun, and incredibly strategic. But it also makes for outrageous evenings."

"We used Salma's domino circle, which included some of the biggest celebrities, to develop new rules that make it more exciting. They acted as our focus group, if you like."

The resulting game is themed around the film industry. Players lay out their chips from the "studio", in a progression that mirrors film production and makes use of a "red carpet". If it sounds contrived, it is. But the success of Hollywood Domino in attracting celebrity aficionados is unrivalled in the usually dusty arena of board games.

"People have been looking in Hollywood for ways to avoid media intrusion, and celebrities have discovered that a dinner party isn't as much fun as playing a game," explains Theron. "This game is special, though. You get to see a completely new side of people. I've seen very famous people storm out of a game."

Theron and Fernandez hope to turn their invention into a cash cow. In addition to the Hasbro product, Ridley Scott is working with them to create a version that will form the basis of a TV game show.

"During a recession, board games tend to become popular, as people go out less," adds Theron. "Trivial Pursuit and Cranium became popular at times of financial hardship. People want comfort, they don't want to go out and spend a fortune."

It is, they say, a perfect pastime for our credit-crunched times – whether you're a multi-millionairess or a regular Joe. Guy Adams

The Barack baby boom

Heavily pregnant Democratic supporter Decontee Williams was so excited by Barack Obama's victory last week that she, unwisely considering her condition, started jumping for joy – and promptly went into labour. Twelve hours later, Barack Jeilah was born. But Williams and Barack's father, Prince Jeilah, won't be alone in their choice of name. "Barack" is, according to news reports and keen onomatologists, set to skyrocket in popularity across America in the coming months. After all, if Britney and Brooklyn can rule the name popularity charts, why not the first black leader of the US? Jamie Merrill

The perfect manicure – at your fingertips

Pundits and pollsters can't predict what will happen in the next three weeks – but there's a new manicure in town that promises to go the distance. Nails Inc's "3-week manicure" is the latest treatment to invest time and technology in keeping talons tidy. After applying a strong "gel-bonded" polish, a technician will leave you to set under a UV light, which develops the chip-resistant formula. And voilà! Nail heaven for the next 21 days.

As any preen queen knows, salon manicures generally last longer than DIY attempts but, if you're strapped for cash, you can always make do and manicure at home – provided that you follow a few rules. Firstly, invest in a good set of tools – Revlon's cuticle remover, nail strengthener and filler for ridged nails are effective and inexpensive.

Use clear base and top coats before and after, and make sure you wipe the brush across the tip of your nail to prevent the varnish flaking off. Apply several thin layers, which will dry quickly, last longer and reduce the chance of smudging.

Nails will take about half an hour to dry but you can hurry them up with a hairdryer on a low speed. Finally, run them under cold water to set. If this all sounds like it will take up to three weeks anyway, you might be better off splashing out at Nails Inc and using your time to do something more constructive than watching nail varnish dry. Harriet Walker

A choux-in for perfect puffs

In Vogue's annual secret address book, only one purveyor of fresh cream puffs is listed. But then, it is the only purveyor of fresh cream puffs you'll ever need. Beard Papa is a Japanese patisserie whose buns are filled with custard and whipped cream available in vanilla, green tea and even pumpkin flavours. So far the only UK outlet is on London's Oxford Street, but those outside the capital should take heart – five more Beard Papas are opening before the end of the year. Is this 2009's answer to Krispy Kremes? Rebecca Armstrong

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