Wordle is the diversion we need now

·4 min read

Every day, it seems, many of us are struggling over the same word. Social media is peppered with images of gray, yellow and green boxes. Why? In a word, Wordle.

Those of us who play are a bit obsessed with it. The free game, developed by software engineer and New York resident Josh Wardle, is simple enough: You are given six chances to solve the day’s five-letter word, with every incorrect answer giving you a hint as to which letters are correct and which are not.

When the British-raised puzzle enthusiast created Wordle so he and his partner could enjoy it together, Wardle told TechCrunch he had no clue that the project would amass 2 million players in just a few weeks.

Tracking the game’s success is as nebulous as anything going viral, and when Wardle shared the game with family and a few friends, he was as shocked as any to find out it made its way to the Twitter feeds of scholars, academics, journalists, and gamers who loved puzzlers.

After shelving a prototype of the game in 2013, Wardle returned to it during the pandemic and fine-tuned its features to the version we all feverishly play today. The New York Times said it went from 90 people playing on Nov. 1 to recently over 300,000 about two months later.

Once you guess a word in the online game Wordle, you will receive feedback telling you which letters, if any, are in the correct place.
Once you guess a word in the online game Wordle, you will receive feedback telling you which letters, if any, are in the correct place.

Competition is stiff on social media, with users copying and pasting their results of the day’s Wordle en masse – little green, gray, and yellow box emojis communicate the fury or favor of players trying to be the sharpest wordsmith.

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Writer and professor Roxane Gay has done the unthinkable and repeatedly solved the day’s Wordle in two tries. Twitter Spaces have been created for users to post their Wordle results and respond to one another directly. Some have attained reputations of mythic proportions for simply solving the word immediately, a feat one Twitter user pointed out as possible after examining the game’s JavaScript source code.

While many of its users pushed Wordle into the realm of heavy competition, the game also courted several copycat apps, so much so that tech giant Apple began removing Wordle clones from its App Store.

The cultural conversation spawning from a simple word game continues to transform. Players from across the globe are sharing their tips for consistently solving the Wordle of the day, others have remarked that being bad at games like Wordle doesn’t make you dumb, and one copycat creator publicly apologized after his monetized clone received immediate backlash online.

Word games have stood the test of time as engaging, low-stakes entryways into a space often occupied by avid players of the medium. Wordle leaves loads of room for newcomers and word aficionados to coexist, all vying for the same gratifying green squares and occasional yellow ones to nudge them in the right direction.

It’s the talk of the town now because of the players – grandparents and their grandchildren playfully chide each other for flubbing the day’s Wordle, while journalists jokingly cast shade at colleagues guessing one too many times. It invites all age ranges and skill levels while requiring very little equipment; the game can be played on almost any smartphone web browser.

The best part is, it's completely free.

Wordle, a daily word guessing game, has rocketed in popularity as social media users share their results with followers.
Wordle, a daily word guessing game, has rocketed in popularity as social media users share their results with followers.

Working on one puzzle a day seems underwhelming at first but having access to only one a day harkens back to a time when popular things, like serialized television, needed to be waited on too. We’ve reached a near-critical mass with binge-worthy content and waiting on the next Wordle for 24 hours helps stave off our insatiable desire to consume popular things all at once.

The charm of Wordle is not only its simplicity but its contributions to public discourse – that players from different spaces can engage in and encourage conversation despite the specter of the pandemic still looming. Wordle’s success is reminiscent of the days of Flappy Bird and Pokémon GO, with the latter maintaining its upward trend since its inception. Mobile games have the reach to include casual and avid gamers, and Wardle’s hit puzzle game is evidence that the medium’s reach continues to make a significant impact.

Jamal Michel is Gaming Editor for The Nerds of Color. You can follow him on Twitter at @jamalnoc.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Wordle: Why this simple word game adds meaning to our pandemic days

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