What in the Wordle? Five-letter puzzle craze goes worldwide

WASHINGTON: Five letters, six attempts, and just one puzzle to solve a day: The Wordle formula couldn’t be simpler, but in just a few weeks, the online brain teaser has taken millions of guesses around the world.

“It just grabs you,” daily player Susan Drubin told AFP of the codebreaking word challenge — perhaps best described as a cross between the retro board game Mastermind and a daily crossword.

“The great thing about it is that it usually only lasts a few minutes, and it’s a really nice little distraction,” said the 65-year-old from the Washington suburbs.

The rise of the puzzle was lightning fast: 90 people played on November 1, according to The New York Times. Two months later, on January 2, more than 300,000 people took up the challenge. The Guardian estimated the daily number of players at two million last weekend and is rising.

Wordle’s rules are disarmingly simple: find the word of the day in six tries or less. Each guess must be a valid five letter word: letters in the correct space turn green, while letters that are part of the answer but in the wrong place turn yellow.

Only one word is offered per day and that is the same for everyone. Are you unable to crack today’s puzzle? For the next one you just have to wait until tomorrow.

Although the game itself can be accessed via a website rather than an app, players can generate a shareable widget, with six lines of colored squares showing how many attempts it took to solve the riddle – without revealing the answer of the day, of course.

After a few weeks, Drubin – like legions of players – started sharing her results on social media under the hashtag #Wordle.

And so a viral phenomenon was born.


Part of what makes Wordle special is that it costs nothing to play – and is also, more unusually, ad-free.

The designer Josh Wardle, a software engineer who lives in Brooklyn but is originally from Wales, has decided not to monetize the game.

“I think people appreciate that there’s something online that’s just fun,” Wardle told The New York Times Monday (Jan. 10). “It’s not trying to do anything shady with your data or your eyeballs.”

While the game website – powerlanguage.co.uk/wordle – is free of ads or pop-ups, it wasn’t long before entrepreneurial copy-cats tried to emulate the game concept, coming up with app store clones for purchase that have since been sent to taken downstairs.

The only app left is an unrelated game called Wordle! with an exclamation mark, made five years ago by a teenager.

Developer Steven Cravotta, now 24, says he initially had “no idea what was going on” when his app started logging more than 40,000 daily downloads.

“I didn’t know it was all the rage,” Cravotta told The Wall Street Journal.


For Mikael Jakobsson, a research coordinator for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Game Lab, Wordle falls into the “gap-filler” category, a game “you can pull out when you’re waiting for a friend or for the bus.”

He attributes its success in part to how easy it is to share results with friends, either through social media or through word of mouth.

If you crack the puzzle, “You’re very proud of yourself… You’ve got that share button there. So then you can brag about it a little bit, which we love to do.”

Rachel Kowert, a psychologist specializing in video games, also points to social comparison theory, which states that everyone wants to evaluate themselves in relation to others.

The temptation is so great that ironic debates have sprung up online about muting friends who tweet their “humble bragging rights” scores.

Another key part of the game’s appeal, Kowert says, is that “limiting to one a day leaves you with a sense of psychological scarcity.”

“You don’t overdo it in any session, and it makes you want to come back every day to keep playing,” she said.

Wordle is already being adapted into other languages, including French, after it quickly conquered the English-speaking world – although, spoiler alert, the American spelling of the word on Wednesday sparked howls from online player protests from the creator’s fellow Brits.


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