The newest craze sweeping social media may leave some people scratching their heads and wondering, “What the heck is a Wordle?”
Wordle is a word game that’s been surging in popularity. Everywhere. And Spokane is no different. Players are given six chances to guess a five-letter word. If they guess a letter that’s not in the word, it turns gray. If a letter is in the word, but not in the correct position, it turns yellow. And if a letter is in the word and in the correct position, it turns green.
Players only get six tries and there is only one puzzle per day. It’s completely free; the only thing it will cost you is a little time and brain power.
But puzzle aficionados must do a little work to find the one true Wordle. You won’t find it in the App Store or on Google Play, because it’s not an app. It’s a website, available at powerlanguage.co.uk/wordle. That doesn’t mean there aren’t copycat apps out there, because there are plenty, but they’re not the real Wordle.
At the end of the game, players can choose to share their results on social media. But in order to keep the word of the day secret, all that is posted is a grid of gray, yellow and green squares along with a cryptic message like “Wordle 210 5/6.” That means that the player has solved puzzle number 210 in five out of six guesses.
The game was created by Josh Wardle, a Brooklyn software engineer who once worked for Reddit, as a gift for his significant other, who loves puzzles. The name of the game is a play on his last name. His family loved the game as well, which prompted him to make it public in October. Since then, use has skyrocketed into the hundreds of thousands.
The website contains only the game, not any ads or anything else. “I think people kind of appreciate that there’s this thing online that’s just fun,” Wardle told the New York Times in an interview early this month. “It’s not trying to do anything shady with your data or your eyeballs. It’s just a game that’s fun.”
Since the game and website were not created with growth in mind, there are no push notifications to people’s phones reminding them to play. “It’s something that encourages you to spend three minutes a day,” he told the Times. “And that’s it. Like, it doesn’t want any more of your time than that.”
Wardle said limiting players to one game a day creates a sense of scarcity and leaves people wanting more. When he added the social media sharing option in December, he made it cryptic on purpose. If he were optimizing the game to gain as many players as possible, he would have included a link at the end of the tweet that the tool generates, he told the Times. But after looking into it, he said it would have looked “trashy” and not as visually compelling, and he liked the grid’s mysterious air, which he felt piqued people’s interest.
It’s those social media messages that have helped capture new players, as they investigate just what the fuss is all about. Melissa Luck, news director at KXLY TV in Spokane, said she started seeing the notifications pop up in Twitter posts of people she follows about two weeks ago. She immediately started digging.
“I don’t like it when there’s things going on on the internet that I don’t know about,” she said. “I like to be a part of the conversation.”
She’s a fan of puzzles and likes to play the New York Times Spelling Bee game and completes the Times’ daily crossword as best she can. She quickly got addicted to Wordle, posting about her progress on Twitter. She likes being able to share about the game and see the posts others make as well. “I love the social aspect of it,” she said. “I like it because you know it’s going to be quick. It’s usually one of the first things I do in the morning.”
Using social media to connect with others about the game can be a refreshing respite, Luck said. “It’s just a nice connection, which is nice on Twitter, which can be full of so much vitriol.”
Luck said she knows that some people use the same word every day as their first guess, something heavy on vowels and with key consonants in it. She, however, prefers to wing it. “I just start with a shot in the dark,” she said. “I’m just going to go with the first word that comes to mind.”
For those just discovering Wordle and wishing they hadn’t missed out on the first 200 or so games, there are online archives available created by fans. Those sites do not limit the user to one puzzle per day, and Luck said that’s why she has avoided looking for an archive. She doesn’t want to lose a bunch of time by getting wrapped up in Wordles.
Luck doesn’t know it, but she helped inspire Spokane Valley Fire Chief Bryan Collins to take up the game. Collins said he saw posts from Luck and other people he follows on Twitter and investigated the game.
He’s a daily player, but he has never posted his results on social media.
“I keep mine to myself,” he said.
Collins said he likes it because it’s quick and clean.
“I can spend five or 10 minutes doing it,” he said. “You do it and either you win or you don’t.”
The New York Times contributed to this report.