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Here's what's behind the Wordle c-r-a-z-e

In Wordle, you have six guesses to figure out the five-letter word.
James Doubek
In Wordle, you have six guesses to figure out the five-letter word.

Updated January 12, 2022 at 9:04 AM ET

A simple word game is the newest social media and pop culture phenomenon: Wordle.

The task is to guess a five-letter word. You have six tries. After each guess, the tiles change colors to show which letters are not in the word (gray), which letters are in the word but in the wrong position (yellow) and which ones are correctly in the word and in the right position (green).

Some people can win in a few minutes. For some of us, it takes ... longer.

Once you finish, you can post on Twitter how many guesses it took without spoiling the challenge for others. It's the same word every day for everyone, and you can play only once a day.

The free game was created by software engineer Josh Wardle of New York City, who made Wordle — a riff on his name — originally for his partner, Palak Shah, who is a fan of word games. Shah also helped with some of the development.

The app really started picking up steam in October, and as of Monday it has more than 2.7 million players, Wardle told NPR's Morning Edition. And Wardle did it without ads or gimmicks. You don't have to sign up with your email or give personal information to play.

"Making Wordle I specifically rejected a bunch of the things you're supposed to do for a mobile game," Wardle told NPR. He deliberately didn't include push notifications, allow users to play endlessly or build in other tools commonly used today to pull users into playing apps for as long as possible.

Wardle said the rejection of those engagement tricks might have fueled the game's popularity after all — "where the rejection of some of those things has actually attracted people to the game because it feels quite innocent and it just wants you to have fun with it."

However, the rapid attention can be overwhelming.

"It going viral doesn't feel great to be honest. I feel a sense of responsibility for the players," he told The Guardian. "I feel I really owe it to them to keep things running and make sure everything's working correctly."

But Wardle said he has especially enjoyed stories of how the game has helped people keep connected.

"They'll have a family chat group where they share their Wordle results with one another," Wardle told NPR. "And especially during COVID, it being a way for people to connect with friends and family that they couldn't otherwise see, and it just provides this really easy way to touch base with others."

Strategy: vowels or consonants?

Facebook fan groups have now cropped up, while numerous articles and players offer their own strategy tips.

Using as many vowels as possible in the first guess is one tactic — "adieu" offers four of them. Another method is to try using as many common consonants as possible with a word like "snort."

The game uses common five-letter words as its answers, Wardle told the Times, and he took out the possibility of very obscure words no one would ever guess.

There's also a "hard mode," where any yellow or green letter has to be used in subsequent guesses.

If you guess the word within six tries, the game gives you the option of sharing your prowess on social media. The numbers in the tweet displayed here, as this reporter eventually discovered, mean it was game No. 203 and I guessed the correct answer in three of six attempts:

The simplicity, popularity and scarcity of the game — with only one chance to play a day — has offered copycats plenty of opportunity to develop their own versions, including with the ability to play unlimited games.

Of course, you can also take some time once you're finished and try out the NPR puzzle instead.

NPR's Nell Clark contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for NPR.org and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.
Marc Rivers
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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