By Michelle R. Davis, AARP, February 2022
Purchased by The New York Times, the popular puzzle is still free — for now.
If you’ve seen those green, yellow and gray boxes people are sharing on social media and wondered whether you should pay attention, the answer is probably yes.
Those boxes are the way people share their scores on Wordle, a viral, five-letter word guessing game that’s everywhere these days. Part of the genius of Wordle is that it’s free, there’s only one new game a day and the results are easily shared without giving away the answer.
Recently, however, The New York Times announced it had purchased Wordle, which has millions of daily users, from its creator Josh Wardle for a price “in the low seven figures.” It said the game would “initially” be free for all players.
Originally players accessed the game by visiting a website and not through an app. The game has now migrated to the Times website and players headed to the original site will automatically be redirected.
At least for now, the game will still be free and will still allow players to brag to others or despair over their daily attempts.
That shareability is increasing contact and connections among generations, as parents and children compare scores and grandparents and grandchildren do, too. It’s a subtle way to have a daily check-in.
“It’s been kind of a sweet way to feel a little bit connected,” says Susan Patrick, 54, from Menlo Park, California, who has three children ranging in age from 16 to 22. “My kids don’t always answer me when I text them, ‘How are your classes going?’ But when I see the little bleep come in of the Wordle score … it’s a little connection.”
How to play Wordle
It’s hard to know just yet what the sale means for Wordle devotees, says Alex Bellos, 52, author of Language Lover’s Puzzle Book who also writes a puzzle column for The Guardian. If The New York Times begins to charge for the game “it will sadden many users and a majority will stop playing,” Bellos wrote in an email.
If The New York Times doesn’t charge, “my guess is that it will use Wordle as a gateway for the puzzle’s millions of players to enter the NYT’s puzzle ecosystem” — a lucrative product for the media company.
So what exactly is Wordle and how do you play?
The game was developed by Wardle, a Brooklyn software engineer, who told The New York Times he created it for his partner, who loves word games.
The concept is similar to the guess-the-color game Mastermind. Wordle is a grid of five squares across and six squares down. Each horizontal row of five squares represents an opportunity to guess the random, five-letter word of the day. With six rows, players have six opportunities to guess.
With each guess, the game will let you know which letters you have right. The background of a letter turns green if it is in the word and in the correct spot or yellow if it’s contained in the word, but in the wrong spot. Those that are not contained in the word are dark gray.
Each guess, and each correct letter, gets you closer to finding the word of the day. And it can get tricky — sometimes letters are used more than once. The goal is to guess the word in as few tries as possible, and before you run out of attempts.
Everyone has their own strategies and you can google lots of suggestions for improving your chances of guessing the daily word. Some people use the same starting word every day. Others try to focus on words with lots of vowels to zero in on which are used in the word and which are not. But Bellos says a good idea is to start with words that contain some of the most common letters in the alphabet.
Part of the game’s appeal is that it’s very “achievable,” Bellos says.
“Even if you think you’re not good at words, at logic, or not good at puzzles, you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting that word in six goes,” he says. “No one likes puzzles that are too hard or too easy, but Wordle is just about right.”
Share and connect
When you’re done playing each day, Wordle offers you the ability to share your score by text, email or on social media — without revealing the word of the day. It will send out your grid of colored boxes highlighting your progress, but without actual letters.
For Patrick, one of the best aspects of Wordle is being able to send her score to her children and husband in their group chat every day. The whole family shares their results, with a little trash talking mixed in about performance. “It’s a cute nerdy thing,” she says.
In my own house, I have a group text going with my husband, my sister and my 73-year-old mother. We all share our scores daily and commiserate or rejoice and occasionally discuss other things on this group text. The upshot is that I’m in touch with my mother daily instead of weekly.
The sharing is “one of the best things about it,” says my mother, Lynne Davis of Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania, adding that she finds it interesting that sometimes one of us does the puzzle late at night, or another person very early in the morning. When my sister posted her score at 7:30 a.m. one day, she and my mother had a separate chat about why she was up so early.
Though Bellos says he’s not into sharing his scores, he did share with his father and nephew on the day he got the puzzle in two tries. “It was a brag, straight out with a capital B,” he says.
But my mother says she also just enjoys the challenge. “At the end of the day Wordle is a logic game based on the alphabet,” she says. “It does keep your mind sharp.”
Bellos agrees. “It forces you to concentrate and it’s really pleasurable blocking all the noises out of the world and having that total concentration,” he says “It’s mentally effortful but also quite relaxing at the same time. It’s also fun.”
Bellos says he worries that with the Times’ acquisition some of the appeal of Wordle may shift.
“One of the charms of Wordle was the sense that it was free and that it wasn’t using your data to grow its brand,” he says. “Now that innocence has been lost.”
But many of us will just want to keep playing.
The ABCs of Wordle
Go to The New York Times Wordle site.
Experts say to start with a word that contains some of the most common letters in the alphabet, including vowels, like adieu or aisle.
The game won’t accept random letters — users have to enter a real word.
After you finish the game, a Share option pops up. You can use that to share your grid on social media or with friends and family by text or email.
Wordle in its current form provides an option for those who are color blind that adjusts the colors. To find this, click on settings and turn on the color-blind mode.