What’s the Wordle?

It seems that from out of the blue, suddenly everyone is talking about and sharing their Wordle scores. If the sight of the score pyramid of different colored tiles leaves you mystified, read this short post explaining what it is, why it’s so addictive and how you can join (if you wish).

What is Wordle?

In short, Wordle is the name of a simple online game you can play on your computer or smartphone. Although it was developed by an independent games company, due to its viral popularity, The New York Times recently purchased it. Also due to its immense popularity, lots of copycat games have launched, usually with similar names eg Wordus. While the copycats let you play endlessly, with the original Wordle, each day a single new 5-letter word is released for which players have six attempts to guess what that daily word is. The playing frame is very simple with 6 empty rows of 5 tiles each and a standard keyboard below these.

Players select 5 letters of the alphabet in the order they would like them to appear. These must be in the correct order to spell out a recognized word, otherwise the guess will be rejected as not viable (but won’t count as a turn). NB the game doesn’t seem to recognize some valid but more esoteric words you’d find in a bona fide dictionary. Accept it.

Once the guess is submitted using the “Enter” key, tiles will change color to give clues to players to the word. A grey letter means that letter is not included in the word of the day, while a yellow letter means that it is in the word but not in the position you’ve chosen. And the coveted green letter means it’s the correct letter in the right place. Once all letters are green, the game celebrates your success. If you are unsuccessful after all 6 attempts, the game lets you know what the word was.

Why so popular?

It’s quick. Most games will take under 5 minutes to play, although I’ve been stubbornly stuck for 10 minutes on occasion looking for possible combinations of missing letters to make up a common 5-letter word.

It’s absorbing. Unlike other online word games, I find it impossible to multi-task while playing Wordle. You simply won’t want to “waste” a guess and you definitely don’t want to sabotage your 98% standing success record. So if you’re interrupted, like me, you may prefer to put it down until you can again lend it your full attention. Fortunately there’s no time deadline and the record of your previous guesses are right in front of you, so there’s no excuse to hiss at friends and family who date to interrupt your Wordle break.

It’s social. After every game you’re prompted to share your outcome with your social circle. On Facebook, Instagram, email or however (you can always take a screenshot). Of course seeing pyramids of colored tiles with mystery numbers from your friends on a daily basis can be annoying, but this is precisely why it’s been a viral success.

It’s easy. I have yet to see any words that aren’t prevalent in everyday speech, so you don’t need an advanced degree and the correct guess is in reach of anyone whose spelling is decent.

It’s free. Or at least for now. The New York Times is known for putting up paywalls. But apparently if you download the website and don’t close it, the games are pre-loaded for years to come. So in theory you would be able to continue to enjoy for free even if they later install a paywall.

What Wordle Looks Like

Below is an example of the playing board. Looking at the image on the far left, you can see that in the first round, “IRATE” was chosen. The “A” and “E” in tile positions 3 and 5 were a lucky guess. They are correct and should be maintained in the next attempt. In addition the “T” is found in the answer, but as the tile is shown in yellow, that means it’s in the wrong position. There are no “I” nor “R”s in the solution, so they are shown in charcoal grey both on the tiles and on the keyboard. The 2nd guess (“STAGE”) results show that the “T” is still in the wrong place, but now we also know there is an “S” somewhere in the solution, just not in the first tile. By process of elimination, we now know for guess #3 that the “T” must be in the first tile position (as we’ve already tried 4th, and the remaining spaces are already solved for “A” and “E”). We guess “TEASE”, hit the Enter key and see in the middle image that they are all green, so we know this is the correct answer. Wordle encourages a spike of dopamine (feel good hormone) with a wiggle and the celebratory message “Impressive”.

Try Playing Wordle

Curious enough to try? Simply download the game in a web browser here. If you prefer using your smartphone, open your web browser on your iPhone or Android and download the link there as, of this writing, no genuine Wordle app.

There are several copycat apps that work in exactly the same way, so if you prefer you can download one of those by typing in “Wordle” in the search bar of your preferred app store (but check reviews first). Most will fund their costs with advertising or in-app purchases, so be prepared to be pestered.

How to Win at Wordle

As mentioned, Wordle is accessible to anyone whose spelling skills are decent, but there are also strategies you can take to improve your score.

  • At least initially, choose a word that both contains letters found more often in 5-letter words (eg vowels, especially E and/or A and popular consonants like “S”, “T”). The list in order for letters found in all English words are: A, E, S, O, R, I, L, T.
  • Try to avoid repeating letters in the first round. In this way you have more chance to know what’s in vs out. Of course, as we saw above, a solution (eg TEASE) may contain repeating letters.
  • In over 100 rounds I have yet to see a solution that is the plural (5-letter) version of a 4-letter word. So avoid guessing words like “teams” or “rates”. There may be exceptions, but unless you’re out of alternatives, why risk it?
  • If you can think of 2 or more possible solutions given the clues so far and one is more of an everyday word (eg “toast” vs “stoat”), go with the more common one. Hint: the answer will never be “stoat” as many people won’t have heard of it.
  • Sometimes you’ll just be plain stuck. Staring endlessly at your keyboard of grey, yellow and perhaps green letters. There’s no shame in “wasting” a round by choosing an uncommon word or using a letter you know isn’t included. Sometimes it’s enough to get you unstuck as you’ll get new valuable clues as to the right answer.
  • Avoid wasting rounds through carelessness of forgetting to include letters you’ve had confirmed are included or using letters which you know aren’t through laziness. Best to double check before hitting “Enter”; it only takes 2 seconds.

We hope you give Wordle a try and end up enjoying it as much as we and millions of others do. If nothing else, you’ll feel “in the know” when friends post their results.

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