Wordle: The wildly popular word game explained

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A puzzle from a few days ago (so it’s not a spoiler!)


Power Language

Wordle took the online world by storm in late 2021, and that momentum doesn’t look close to stopping in the New Year. Never heard of Wordle? You’ve probably seen it on social media recently, particularly if you frequent Twitter. Posts with boxes: Yellow boxes, green boxes, gray boxes. Boxes like this:

Welcome to Wordle. What the hell is Wordle? Great question.

What is Wordle?

Wordle is a daily word game you can find online here. It’s fun, simple and can be played only once a day. Give it a go — it’s something that’s best learned by doing. 

I could try to explain the rules, but the site itself does a fantastic job of doing so:

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This game is so good.


Wordle

Wordle gives players six chances to guess a random five-letter word. As shown above, if you have the right letter in the right spot, it shows up green. A correct letter in the wrong spot shows up yellow. A letter that isn’t in the word in any spot shows up gray. 

You can enter a total of six words, meaning you can enter five burner words from which you can learn hints about the letters and their placement. Then you get one chance to put those hints to use. 

Simple, right? Yes, simple, but also incredibly compelling.

So it’s just a word game? Big deal…

Yeah, it’s just a word game. But it’s popular: Over 300,000 people played it on Sunday, according to the New York Times. That popularity may sound perplexing, but there are a few tiny little details that have resulted in everyone going absolutely bonkers for it.

There’s only one puzzle per day 

This creates a certain level of stakes. You only get one shot at the Wordle. If you mess up, you have to wait until tomorrow to get a brand new puzzle. 

Everyone is playing the exact same puzzle! 

This is crucial, as it makes it easier to ping your buddy and chat about the day’s puzzle. “Today’s was tough!” “How did you get on?” “Did you get it?”

Which takes us to the next point…

It’s easy to share your results!

Once you’ve successfully or unsuccessfully done the puzzle for the day, you’re invited to share your Wordle journey for the day. If you tweet the image, it looks like this…

Note that the word and letters you chose are obscured. All that’s shown is your journey toward the word in a series of yellow, green and gray boxes.

It’s very compelling. If you get it easily, maybe in the second or third try, there’s gloating element whereby you must show your followers how smart you are and share.

If you get it by the skin of your teeth in the sixth go, that’s also a cool story. But most importantly, the puzzle itself isn’t spoiled. 

So Wordle isn’t just a word game, it’s a conversation starter and a chance to show off on social media. That’s why it’s going so viral. 

Who made Wordle?

Wordle is the work of Josh Wardle. Extremely online people may remember him as the creator of Place, an utterly wild collaborative art project/social experiment that sent the internet into a tizzy in April 2017.

Place was a shared online space that allowed literally anyone to fight over what was drawn there. It resulted in huge, sprawling communities battling over space on this gigantic online canvas. 

It ultimately ended up looking like this: 

Image from the online space Place

Remember Place? That was a wild time.


Reddit

Wordle got a mention in The New York Times in November but really got traction when the share element was added on Friday.

In a Reddit post, Wardle said he wanted Wordle to feel like a croissant, a “delightful snack” that is enjoyed occasionally. This is explicitly why there’s only one puzzle per day. “Enjoyed too often,” he explained, “and they lose their charm.” 

Agreed.