Have you seen those mysterious gray, yellow, and green squares on your Facebook feed? Maybe in a friend’s Instagram story? I see them everywhere. Wordle is the newest word puzzle game to hit viral status. Many have compared it to Word Mastermind. The premise is simple: you have 6 tries to guess a 5 letter word. Incorrect letters show up gray. Letters that are guessed correctly but are in the wrong spot will show up yellow, letters that are guessed correctly and are in the correct spot will show up green. There’s only one word per day. Best of luck! For some people, this game is exceedingly frustrating or feels pointless; for others, it’s a daily challenge that keeps them coming back for more! I’m in the second group. I’m totally hooked. My 44-day streak of wins has me religiously focused (oh yes, the game keeps your stats too! Wordle shows you a bar graph of your wins; I frequently guess the word correctly on my fourth try).
Josh Wardle, a software engineer in Brooklyn developed the game for fun, initially only sharing it with his partner and family. Wardle released his game to the public in late October 2021. By January 2022, 300,000 people were playing and now in mid-February the daily number is in the millions. The New York Times just purchased the game from Wardle for a figure in the low millions. Talk about a successful year, am I right?
So what’s the best word to start with? Devoted players and data experts are coming up with new strategies to succeed. It makes sense to start with words that have letters that appear very frequently in the English language, keeping in mind which letters usually combine with each other (this is actually a set of rules that linguists call phonotactic constraints). For example, plenty of words end in “CK” but never start with it. So how do you start? For a while, I started with the word “adieu” because I wanted to knock out as many vowels as I could right away. But these days, I switch it up based on my mood! This morning, I started with “Groan.”
Let’s get data involved! Cambridge-educated mathematician Alex Selby devised an algorithm to find the starting word that should, on average, require the fewest amount of guesses – assuming the player then makes logical choices based on feedback from the game. He landed on the word “Salet,” a type of medieval helmet. Charles Yang, a UPenn professor of linguistics and computer and information science landed on the word “Trace.” The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote a computer program based purely on letter frequency in five letter words and came up with a list of top contenders: “Orate,” “Alert,” “Tears,” and “Raise” are among the highly recommended. I have found “Raise” to be a great one to start with! The letter R occurs more frequently at the beginning of five-letter words than at the end.
One of my favorite aspects of the game is the 24-hour cycle. If new words were available all the time, it would totally change the experience. It has become an excellent morning break for me: I drink my coffee, play Wordle, and get my brain cells moving! Included in your stats is a countdown to the next available word – it definitely adds to the excitement!
I’m curious to see how the game will evolve now that it’s part of the suite of daily puzzles offered by the New York Times. I heard on the radio today that players think the words have already gotten harder. I don’t think that’s the case; I bet we’re still operating on his original list of words. Will it eventually go behind a paywall? The New York Times has managed to create an amazing suite of puzzles for their subscribers – My dad is particularly hooked on the daily mini crossword.
What happens when Wardle’s original list of 2,315 words runs out? Will the winning words become exceedingly obscure? Are others going to develop a version for longer words? I’ve already seen some hints of that on Twitter. Have you been playing Wordle?
Barrilleaux, Tom Avril and Francois. “Wordle Is All about the Best Starting Word. We Did the Math on What Wins.” Https://Www.inquirer.com, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 4 Feb. 2022, https://www.inquirer.com/science/wordle-starting-word-answer-win-play-20220203.html.