It’s not often that I jump on board anything trendy, but two things currently have my attention: Wordle and Pickelball. I’ve been working on blogging on both for a week or so and then I saw the Pickelball feature on “CBS Sunday Morning” (and thought…they stole my thought!) last week so I figured I better get a move on! First up…Wordle.
I was kinda late to the game but this wordsmith is obsessed with Wordle. I’d heard about it and then one day early this year a fellow golfer talked about it after a tournament and raised my curiosity. I looked into it but it seemed a bit confusing so I let it go. Then, my good friend got me hooked. Now, I look forward to doing it every day and share my results with her and another friend who I got hooked on it. I gotta say…I love it!
I also loved learning that it was developed by a software engineer who made it for his girlfriend as a pandemic distraction during lockdowns. I guess Wordle is one of very few silver linings to come out of it all!
Brooklyn-based John Wardle, the guy behind it all, is actually Welsh and originally created the game for him and his friend to play. It all went public in October 2021 and players started posting their results on social media. In January of this year, more than 300,000 people played the game, up from a mere 90 players in November 2021. By mid-January, more than 2 million people were playing it daily. This success didn’t go to Wardle’s head however. In fact, all the sudden attention left him uncomfortable so on January 31, his little game was purchased by The New York Times Company for an undisclosed low seven figures and the game was moved to the company’s website.
IYKYK, but if you don’t, here’s the gist. Every day a five-letter word is chosen and players try to guess it in six tries. You simply enter any letters that make up a legit word in the five squares and go from there. After every guess, the letters are marked either green, yellow, or gray. Green means that letter is in the word and is in the right position, yellow means it’s in the word but not where you put it, and gray means it’s not in the word at all. It’s amazing and fun that some days you get it in two or three tries and others you’re hoping your sixth guess is the right one. All players worldwide guess the same word and there’s only one word per day.
So how are the words chosen? They are randomly picked from a list of just over 2,300 English words; a list that was pared down from the approximate 13,000 five-letter words in the English language by Wardle’s wife. It’s important to note that even though Wardle is Welsh, he is a long-time New York resident and all Wordle words use America spelling. That stuff that makes up fabric or your digestive system healthy? It’s “fiber” not “fibre” on Wordle. This doesn’t sit well with some foreign players, but no worries, Wordle has been adapted into other languages and now there are at around 350 different variants in some 91 languages. As for offensive words? They’re out. You’ll never guess “lynch” or “sluts” as the daily word, along with a few others.
There are some fun knock-offs out there, including Tradle, in which users guess a country based on its exports, and Airportle that involves guessing airports IATA codes. There’s also Heardle where listeners guess songs and that was acquired by Spotify just last month.
If you’ve played it, you might notice that Wordle’s mechanics are nearly identical to Jotto, the popular “write it down” game of the 1950s as well as the TV game show Lingo. Its method of playing is also similar to the board game Mastermind.
And speaking of board games, The New York Times and Hasbro have partnered to create Wordle: The Party Game, a board game set for release this October…just in time for holiday giving! Lots of clones have also appeared including many that incorporate the “le” suffix to appear connected with the original, but imposters have been removed and The New York Times filed a trademark application to protect its intellectual property. (Remember trademark info in my previous color blog?!)
It all almost didn’t happen though. Wardle had been doing his puzzling for roughly five years when he lost interest in 2014 and promptly set his prototype aside. Then, the pandemic hit. That’s when he and his friend became obsessed with The New York Times’ Spelling Bee and daily crossword puzzle. Wardle had created two online social experiments called The Button and Place while working for Reddit and in January 2021 he published Wordle on the web. And yes, he named it that as a play on word of his surname. It’s perfect!
The rest, as they say, is history. Today even Wardle himself plays it and says he doesn’t know each day’s word so he’s guessing right along the rest of us. He’s adamant about keeping it to one puzzle per day as a way of keeping players wanting more and also as a way of only spending mere minutes on it each day. In short, he just wants it to be fun and what’s a five letter word for fun? Wordle!