The new year has dragged along the omicron variant, inflation and grocery shelf shortages. But it also gave us Wordle, the engaging five-letter word game that has become an online sensation since its low-key introduction last November.
Josh Wardle, a Brooklyn software engineer, created Wordle for his game-loving wife and him “to kill time”. They liked the game so much, they shared it via their family WhatsApp group and the number of players from there just exploded.
The game is simple and seductive. You start with a five-letter word and try to figure out in six guesses the word of the day. Green boxes indicate whether you have the right letter in the right place. Yellow boxes indicate you have the right letter, but in the wrong place. Gray boxes denote loser letters. There is only one game per day, and it sticks with common words.
At the turn of the year, there were 300,000 players for the game. Two weeks later, there are 2.5 million daily players for a game with no push notifications, sign-ups or ads. “It’s not trying to do anything shady with your data or your eyeballs. It’s just a game that’s fun,” Wardle told The New York Times.
Wordle allows us to win a bit of that togetherness every day. Which hopefully brings our lonely hearts a bit of P E A C E.
Wordle’s infectious appeal is undoubtedly linked to the frustration caused by persistent coronavirus infections. People avoiding malls, theaters and church services are excited to find something fresh and fun they can do home alone or with friends. The game may not be exceptional by gaming standards, but it is “exceptional for the moment,” says Washington Post columnist Molly Roberts.
Wardle has created online hits before, but with the collaboration of other developers at Reddit where he previously worked. He created Wordle by himself. His development journey began in 2013 with a prototype that he scrapped after poor reviews from friends. In 2020, he and Palak Shah became enamored with the Times’ Spelling Need and daily crossword. “I wanted to come up with a game she would enjoy,” Wardle says. “It’s really sweet,” Shah says. “This is definitely how Josh shows his love.”
Shah helped Wardle whittle down 12,000 5-letter word possibilities to around 2,500, enough to keep the game going for several years. Wardle noticed users gerryrigged their own graphics after solving a puzzle, so he updated the game with a built-in brag token that shows going from one green box to five.
Like any game, there have been complaints. Canadian players took issue with the winning word “favor” – spelled without a sixth-letter “u”. Mostly, Wordle has inspired memes, puns and ad messages – and is making people happy. Columnists are writing about it, Twitter feeds are brimming with comments and night-time host Jimmy Fallon tried it out on air.
As Roberts says, “Let’s get one thing straight: Wordle is easy. Forget the pun-soaked agony of the Sunday crossword. The good news is there are only so many letters in the alphabet. You can lose. Yet to do so requires an almost deliberate lack of thought, or a serious L A P S E of attention.
“Nonetheless, when you win you’ve won — and we could all stand to win now. What’s more, after two years of giving each other a depressing amount of medically mandated S P A C E, we could stand to win together. This is really what makes Wordle perfect for a weary populace: We’re playing together, but we’re also playing alone.
“Wordle allows us to win a bit of that togetherness every day. Which hopefully brings our lonely hearts a bit of P E A C E.”
Too bad “amen” only has four letters.