What Is Wordle, The Addictive Word Game That Is Taking Over The Internet?
If you've been offline over the holiday period, you might be confused by the coloured blocks dominating your timelines.
The late December/early January period is the wild west of the year, a melange of trends, weird vibes, and desperate attempts at reinvention. And out of this year’s bubbling soup has emerged one dominant narrative: everyone is absolutely obsessed with Wordle.
The simple guessing game has taken off on social media — if you’ve noticed that your feed is awash with weird little coloured squares, then you are not alone. According to a New York Times article about the game, Wordle has gone from entertaining a few dozen people to hundreds of thousands, with the spread mainly taking place over Twitter. What was once a pleasant distraction for a handful of people has since become a global trend, with players tuning in from all over the globe.
If you’re a neophyte, that can all seem a bit overwhelming: where is one meant to begin? Luckily, Wordle is an extremely forgiving game, with an easy point of access for new players. So read on, and have one of the most baffling trends of the new year explained in a way that’ll have you posting those green, yellow and black tiles in no time.
What Is Wordle?
Wordle is essentially akin to hangman — the aim is to guess the five-letter word of the day. You have six chances to guess the word. But you’re not guessing blind. When you make your first five-letter word guess, the tiles will change colour based on the letters you’ve used. If the tile turns grey, then that letter isn’t in the word. If it turns yellow, then the letter is in the word, but not in the place that you’ve put it. And if it turns green, it’s in the right place, and is in the word.
I mean, just because EVERYONE else is playing it.
Wordle 197 4/6
— Richard Osman (@richardosman) January 2, 2022
That means that the game is essentially a process of elimination. The more words you try, the better sense you’ll have of what’s in there and what’s not. The words can sometimes be hard — a recent puzzle ended with the word “rebus”, frustrating a number of players online — but you can still get the word even if you don’t know it. It’s just about shaving off what’s not present, in order to work out what is.
Oh, and it’s worth noting, so you can learn from others’ mistakes, that Wordle won’t tell you if a letter shows up more than once in a word. So ‘O’ might go green in the middle of the word, but it might also crop up somewhere else too.
Who Made This Thing?
Wordle is the brainchild of a software engineer from the states named Josh Wardle — the name of the game is a pun, based on his surname. Wordle is a one-man operation, devised to entertain Wardle’s partner, and his partner alone. When it took off, a mere two months after it first launched, Wardle was surprised, but pleasantly so. He is happy that so many people have gotten so much joy out of what he essentially considers a side hustle.
“I think people kind of appreciate that there’s this thing online that’s just fun,” Wardle told The New York Times. “It’s not trying to do anything shady with your data or your eyeballs. It’s just a game that’s fun.”
How Do I Get Better At This Sometimes Frustrating Game?
Listen, this is the part of the article where I admit to you that despite enjoying Wordle, I’m not very good at it. I move too impulsively; too quickly, often trying to jam in whatever five letter word I can think of without considering strategy.
And there is strategy. The trick with Wordle is choosing a good starting word, one that involves the most common letters in the alphabet — e, t, a, i, o, n, s, h, and r. Also, just FYI, the letters that most commonly start words are t, a, o, d, and w. That’s why a word like ‘tears’ is a good starting point; once you’ve knocked out a couple of vowels, you’ll be in a much better place to start guessing.
Look, I don’t want to call myself a “hero” but…
Wordle 193 2/6
— Adam Liaw (@adamliaw) December 29, 2021
The harder strategy is to make sure you’re not using letters that you know don’t appear in the word. It’s all too tempting to re-use an ‘r’ when you know it doesn’t appear, just so you can spell out a word that you know. Take your time, and really consider the letters in front of you.
What About Wordle Metagames?
People have become so obsessed with Wordle — so good at it — that they’ve already started devising metagames. The most enjoyable one comes from Twitter. When you complete a Wordle, you get the option to share your “pattern” on Twitter. This is the series of coloured blocks you’ll have seen online — you don’t get to see which words were guessed through the grid, but you do get to see which tiles went green and yellow for each guess.
new wordle metagame: figuring out the word based on other people's wordle tweet + their starting word
— Jini Maxwell (@astroblob) January 1, 2022
So if you have already figured out the word, you know where a person who has posted their blocks has ended up. From that, you can try and back guess to work out their starting word. That’s hard, and relies on the assumption that the Wordle player is rational, and is not reusing the same letters they know don’t appear. But it’s a new spin to the game, and one that can feel genuinely rewarding when you get it right.
There’s also the metagame, shared by Jini Maxwell, that goes in the opposite direction. Maxwell suggests asking friends their starting word, looking at their pattern of coloured tiles, and then guessing the correct final word from that.
So go, be free, and may all your tiles be green.