Six-letter word for social media phenomenon? Wordle

By Erica Quinones

Scrolling through Twitter has become homogenous. Armies of little square soldiers lined up in black, yellow, and green fill users’ feeds, proudly — or shamefully — announcing to the masses their daily Wordle scores.

Wordle exploded in popularity over the first couple months of 2022. Originally created by New York-based software engineer Josh Wardle for his partner, the simplistic word game spiraled into popularity. Launching in November 2021 with 90 daily players, it skyrocketed to 2 million players by January 2022.

While what makes Internet content “viral” is notoriously incomprehensible, The Guardian writes that the word game’s design stands out in “an era of apps aggressively competing for your attention and time.”

The minimalist game sees its players guessing a five-letter word from its extensive bank. Allowing a device to only play once per day and giving each user a limit of six chances to puzzle out the solution, Wordle encourages its players to take their time, think about their next move, and — miracle of all miracles — put the game down.

While The Guardian wrote that this model feels distinctly nonpredatory, it also creates a sense of scarcity which leaves players wanting more, according to Wardle in a Jan. 3 interview with New York Times.

Wordle not only provides players a moment of relief but a new way to connect with family and friends, according to The Guardian.

On social media, Twitter erupted with daily Wordle scores. Using the aforementioned black (or white if the user prefers Night Mode), yellow, and green emoticon blocks to illustrate how many guesses it took them to win, sharing one’s score has become a daily ritual in celebration or shame for many users.

Outside of the public sphere, players have found solace in the ability to connect with family and friends through the game, sharing scores privately.

Players who are more interested in the puzzle-solving aspects also find ample opportunities to break the game itself.

The issue of starter words is central to this meta challenge.

Debates over the best starter words are heated. According to The Guardian, some players dive in with a vowel-heavy word, such as “adieu”; although, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Sussex Dr. Lynne Murphy professed his love for consonant-dominant entries to The Independent. Still others opt for a double-header opener, using two words with commonly used letters that are not shared, such as my expert combo: “arise” and “mount.”

The popularity of the game’s versatile format has unsurprisingly led to a plethora of mimics, each with their own five-letter word: twist.

Absurdle offers an “adversarial version” of Wordle, according to its website, actively trying to not give the player the answer. The game gives minimal information with each guess — of which there are infinity — and changing the secret word as needed to evade divination.

Meanwhile, Wordle received the Shakespearean makeover through Bardle, which uses the same format as the original game, subbing in words from the Bard’s classic quotes, characters, and theater terminology.

With the rush of Wordle clones online, perhaps the most controversial iteration of the game is the original itself.

Some fans have become disenchanted with the game since its purchase by NYT on Jan. 31, 2022.

Bought for an undisclosed price “in the low-seven figures,” according to NYT, they addressed one fear by reassuring players the game will remain free for new and existing players. However, other concerns arose regarding lost streaks and claims that the game’s difficulty was increased.

According to The Verge, after a string of brainteasers — such as “ultra,” “ulcer,” and “aloft” — in early February, many frustrated players angled the NYT Games division as scheming developers, “sitting around with devilish grins, looking to find the most difficult five-letter words in the lexicon.”

However, NYT did not add to the original 2,500-word bank, according to The Verge. They have only removed terms, deleting vulgar entries and some obscure words, such as “agora” and “pupal,” from the valid guess and solution lists.

This discourse not only drew attention to how NYT made the game more accessible through the latter deletions, but to the sometimes-bloodcurdling difficulty of Wardle-owned Wordle.

Can any longtime fan forgive the game for “proxy” or “knoll”?

While criticisms of Wordle’s NYT-era continue — now labeling the game developers as overly sensitive or arguing that they cut words that are not justifiably obscure — the game remains a staple of millions of players’ days.

Proliferating in Internet culture through score sharing, discourse, and memes, it’s another pertinent self-soothing tool to connect a plugged-in society.

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Featured Photo Caption: Following The New York Times aquiring Wordle, fans of the game have complained about the words chosen, claiming that recent words have led to them breaking their streaks.

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