What's Wordle, And Why Is Everyone You Know Playing It?

by Elaine Roth
Originally Published: 
what is wordle anyway?

When I first heard about Wordle, I shrugged. I thought, eh, I don’t have time for a word game. Then, my brother-in-law sent me the link to the game and asked if I’d played yet. I said no, but some competitive spirit in me ignited. (Early in the pandemic, we’d had a friendly competition going over the New York Times mini crossword puzzle.)

I clicked on the link. Instead of an app or a tailored ad-filled website, I was brought to a simple page, which featured a grid (space for six, five-letter words), a keyboard, easy directions, and a handful of settings to toggle between “Hard Mode,” “Dark Theme,” or “Color Blind Mode.”

I played my first game. And I lost. I did not guess the five-letter word in the allotted six tries. (I was off by one letter—the loss still haunts me.) As soon as my last guess registered, a countdown clock appeared on the webpage. My next word would be available in seventeen hours. That was all the “Wordle” I’d get today.

And so began my new favorite morning routine.

Everyone’s Playing Wordle

Or at least it seems like everyone’s playing Wordle.

Chances are you’ve signed onto social media and have seen a post containing a grid with a mix of gray, yellow, and green squares — no letters, no spoilers. Chances are, if you haven’t played Wordle, all of that means nothing to you. Maybe you scrolled right by, rolled your eyes at yet another buzzy trend. But if you have played Wordle, you probably felt a little thrill. Another player.

The creator of the game, Josh Wardle, recently told NPR that more than 2.7 million people began playing the game, which he invented solely for one.

The Backstory Behind Wordle Is Sweet

Wordle first entered my radar with a headline in the New York Times: “Wordle Is A Love Story.” I didn’t even click on the article. (I’m a young widow approaching the fourth anniversary of my husband’s death—sometimes I get jaded about other people’s love stories. Sorry not sorry and all that.) But, after I played the game, I did click on the article, and the story behind the game is lovely.

Josh Wardle (notice the play on the last name) created the game for his partner, Palak Shah, who loves word games. During the early days of the pandemic, they both got into playing word games, including the New York Times daily crossword and Spelling Bee. He created the game for the joy of playing. He told the New York Times, “I wanted to come up with a game that she would enjoy.”

“It’s really sweet,” Shah said in the same interview. “This is definitely how Josh shows his love.”

A Game Designed To Be Played And Put Down

Wordle works like this: the player (you) guesses a five-letter word. Then, using a color code, the game tells you whether any of the letters are correct and, if correct, whether they’re in the right space—kind of like Mastermind mixed with Hangman.

You have six tries to get the word. After you guess the word (or don’t), the game is over until the next day. You can share your results, but you cannot play another word.

In a society where games are designed to keep you playing, keep you glued to the screen, it’s a stunning statement—essentially boiling down to, “put down your phone.” There’s something almost pure about the game, in its simplicity, in its no-frills presentation, in its ad-free space. In its reason for existing.

Even my jaded widow heart is warming.

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