Unless you’ve been living under a rock these days, it’s hard not to hear about the game Wordle.
For those with enough self-control (or, perhaps, just not enough time) to not try it out, Wordle is a web-based game developed by software engineer Josh Wardle. The game title was a play on his surname, but it also sounds like a nice portmanteau of “word” and “riddle,” which is a happy accident, I suppose.
It’s the game behind all the gray, yellow, and green squares you might be seeing on Twitter.
In it, you have six chances to guess the five-letter word of the day. For every try, you’re given feedback about the letters you entered: Green for the correct letter at the right placement, yellow for a correct letter for some other part of the word, and gray for a letter that doesn’t belong in the word.
It’s reminiscent of earlier games like the 1955 pen-and-paper game Jotto, which was created by Morton M. Rosenfeld, as well as the 1980s game show Lingo, which combined a word game with some mechanics from bingo.
Wordle’s mechanics are simple enough to understand, and the game itself doesn’t have too many bells and whistles, apart from the cute little dance the letters do when you win.
But just last month, The New York Times bought it from Wardle for an undisclosed amount — which sources say is in the low millions.
But how did Wordle get there? And, for those of us who want some more word-based puzzles in our lives, what else can we play?
Wordle, a Brief History
The New York Times, prior to buying the game, described it as a love story. Wardle knew that his partner, social entrepreneur Palak Shah, loves word games, and so he created one just for the two of them, and Wordle was born.
Wardle himself has had a history with creating fun, experimental games, like The Button, which involved Reddit users pressing a mysterious button that had a 60-second countdown timer. The timer refreshed every time someone in the world pressed the button and kept the game running.
Before long, the couple shared it with family and friends, who became obsessed with it, too. By mid-October of 2021, Wardle decided to share it with the rest of the world. Its viral success can be attributed to a few things.
It’s Easy to Share
The game well and truly took off in December, when Wardle introduced a function for letting players share their daily results as emoji squares. This helped spread knowledge of the game to even more people in a spoiler-free way, and illustrates your journey towards getting the right answer (or not).
For instance, getting the right word in two to three tries can help some of us feel smarter and feel the need to share the good news. Some people have the fortune of getting it on their first try, too, which is pretty cool.
Getting a close call and finding the right word on the sixth try also makes for a fun story – all told in emoji squares.
There’s Only One Puzzle per Day
Having only one puzzle per day — and a streak to build and maintain — creates a little excitement. You only get one shot, after all, and you’ll need to wait until tomorrow for the next one if you don’t solve the day’s Wordle.
Plus, there’s something about this dedication to simplicity that stands out in a sea of other games and apps that demand your attention and send push notifications so you’re forced to live within your screen.
“I like the idea of doing the opposite of that,” Wardle said in a BBC Radio 4 interview. “What about a game that deliberately doesn’t want much of your attention?”
And indeed, you’ll probably finish the game in under three minutes every day.
Wardle has also said that he wanted the game to feel a bit like a croissant, which is a snack you can enjoy occasionally. “Enjoyed too often,” he explained, “and they lose their charm.”
… and Everyone’s Doing the Same One
This, arguably, makes up a big part of the magic, because it means you and your friends can talk about it over a group chat.
In fact, this was how I found out about the game. “Today’s Wordle was pretty tough,” a friend had messaged the work chat. And I was hooked.
Playing alongside us is Wardle himself, who explained that he had programmed the game in a way that doesn’t let him know which word will be used for the day’s puzzle. That way, he can still enjoy playing it, too.
Two Million Strong
From just 90 players at the start of November 2021, the game had amassed over 300,000 players by January 2, 2022. And at the end of that month, 2 million people were playing it.
Though the success of Wordle was a bit overwhelming for Wardle, he explains that the game has also brought joy to people around the world. “I get emails from people who say things like ‘hey, we can’t see our parents due to Covid at the moment but we share our Wordle results each day’,” he shared in an interview. “During this weird situation, it’s a way for people to connect in a low effort, low friction way.”
He’s also pointed out that he doesn’t want to monetize the games, nor does he have any other ulterior motive outside of sharing joy. “It’s not trying to do anything shady with your data or your eyeballs,” says Wardle. “It’s just a game that’s fun.”
Google even paid tribute to the game with a special Google Doodle that appears when you google “Wordle.”
And to foil the spoilsports of this world, Twitter also took down @wordlinator, an auto-reply bot that was designed to reply to people posting their Wordle scores with the word for the next day. The messages were rude, unnecessary, and ultimately in violation of Twitter’s Automation Rules page, and so the account was taken down.
The latest development, of course, is the seven-figure sale to The New York Times, which intends to add Wordle to its repertoire of other word-based games like crossword puzzles and the Spelling Bee.
The announcement came with an explanation that the company will “initially” keep the game free for new and existing players, but the wording has raised eyebrows within the community. Many worry that it will someday be placed behind a paywall or that the company might modify the game too much.
And so, if you’re one to want more than one round of brain-exercising word puzzles every day — and in case The New York Times really does monetize Wordle and rob us of what little joy we can get in this pandemic — the question on your mind might just be:
What Else Can We Play?
This NSFW version of Wordle keeps most of the original’s mechanics — it’s just that the word you’ll need to guess is always naughty. If you’ve got a raunchy vocabulary but are conscious of maintaining a certain level of wholesomeness, you’d be glad to know that the game doesn’t accept any slurs.
You can try out your naughty word repertoire here.
This is a version of Wordle that’s particularly evil. Created by a mystery coder known only as “qntm,” Absurdle is a game that follows the rules of the original — except for one: The mystery word changes not everyday, but with every guess you make. This means that the game is actively trying to avoid giving you the right answer.
If you’d like some extra stress in your day, you can try it out here.
If you really want to stick to the original Wordle but would like to play more than just once per day, then Hello Worldl is the one for you. This variant allows you to change the length of the secret word, too, as long as it’s within 4 and 11 letters. You can even change the difficulty mode if you want.
So if you’ve got a few minutes (or hours) to burn, you can check it out here.
Described as the “yassification of Wordle,” this variant sticks to the same set of rules as the original but slaps on a cute pink background and uses words of different lengths that one would normally associate with the queer community.
“I want it to be truly queer,” creator Jordan Bouvier told Pink News. “So there are references to history, drag, slang, and of course the sexual references.” You’re also free to suggest words to add to the game, because Bouvier admits that they don’t know the entirety of the queer lexicon.
You can try it out here, or sashay away.
Fans of productivity queen Taylor Swift, unite.
Playing Wordle can be a bit challenging (which I know… all too well), but it can also be a fun way to test your Taylor Swift knowledge. Brought to us by the podcast Holy Swift, Taylordle uses the same five-letter six-chance mechanics, but uses words related to Taylor’s songs and history. This means you can use song and album titles like Lover, or names like Swift.
If you’re feeling particularly fearless, you can try it out here.
Another act with a dedicated fandom is BTS, and they’ve got the Wordle game to show for it, too.
The game is pretty much reminiscent of the original, except that the correct letters are colored purple — the signature color of the BTS ARMY. Also, all the mystery words are related to the BTS fandom.
If you’re a dedicated ARMY, then you can test out the game here.
Fans of Star Wars also set up their own Wordle — complete with a custom keyboard and on-brand header image. You can even play with the Aurebesh alphabet if you want to go all out.
The last point of difference from the original rules is that, because of the nature of the source material, the five spaces you’ll need to fill out also allow for numbers and dashes, aside from just letters. A challenge worthy of a true fan it is.
You can try it out here, and may the Force be with you.
Last but not least is the Pokémon-themed Wordle with the cutest name, and probably one of the most challenging asks: Instead of guessing just words, fans are supposed to guess the secret Pokémon for the day. That can be a little tricky, as there are nearly 900 kinds of Pokémon — and over a thousand if you count the evolutions and variations.
The mechanics are also a little bit different. Instead of verifying letters at each line of guessing, you’ll have to verify your guess’s generation, type, height, and weight. And because it’s slightly more complicated than just checking letters, you’ll have eight guesses to win.
You can test out your Pokémon knowledge here. Gotta solve ’em all!