The Domino Theory is trying to stage a revival in Central America. But there are problems here. The words have lost all metaphorical value. Simply put, a whole rising generation of Americans doesn't know a domino from a Dalmatian. In light of this terminological shortfall, foreign policy analysts have been working day and night to come up with a new metaphor, one drawn from the ranks of more contemporary juvenile pursuits, that can be applied to the ebb and flow of international dynamics. Below, the four leading contenders as of this writing:

The Dungeons & Dragons Theory. Strongly opposed by diehard Dominoists, D&D-ism maintains that the significance of any crisis exists in direct proportion to the whimsicality of its origins and the obscurity of the theater in which the crisis plays itself out. (The so-called Falkland Factor.) Mysticism made simple, D&D explains the seemingly inexplicable, such as Nixon's first visit to the People's Republic of China, also why Third World leaders run so often to the short and why no one in power knows what's going on nearly all of the time. The latter has caused some critics to label it "escapist diplomacy."

The Yo-Yo Theory. An old favorite of Foreign Service careerists, the Yo-Yo Theory holds that with adept enough handling of the diplomatic string, everything will eventually return to where it began--Gaullists to power in France, for example, or republicans in the Eastern European satellite countries. In the argot of Yo-Yoists, a nation that refuses to return to its former, and proper, state is said to be "walking the dog," while one that has temporarily come unmoored from all reason either is "doing a round the world" or "has its string tangled." The Yo-Yo Theory, incidentally, is related to the expansion- contraction theory of the universe, which believes that the universe began as a small clump of antimatter and will eventually return to same. At present, the universe is thought to be "walking the dog."

The Pac-Man Theory. This is a favorite of New Wave policy-makers, especially since the collapse of Punk Diplomacy (see Libyan Air Force incident). Pac-Manphiles, a number of them highly placed, see the world's nations as little more than ravening microbes out to gobble each other up at a moment's notice and likely to change political coloration with neither rhyme nor reason, often accompanied by weird noises. Given such an international dynamic, all that can be done is to ride the joy-stick of negotiations, preferably with a pocketful of quarters. They point out, not unreasonably, that with the rising tide of bio-warfare, Pac-Man may well be the theory of the future.

The Rubik's Theory. Beloved of idealism-crazed mechanists on the Foreign Relations Council, the Rubik's Theory seeks to separate the known world into six planes--those countries that love the United States and those that hate us, those inclined to do either, those that barely tolerate us and are in turn barely tolerable, and those beneath our notice save for sudden discoveries of strategic minerals, oil or natural gas. Nostalgists, the Cubists are informed by a vision of an antediluvian world in which the separate colors of the six planes gleamed unbroken, before that one fatal twist that plunged diplomacy into chaos and anarchy. The recent push to restore a diplomatic purity has been complicated by efforts to place the two Chinas on a single plane. Yo- Yoists believe that Cubists have their "string tangled.