Wordle mania: five letters and one word connecting the world


PTI, Mar 6, 2022, 1:34 PM IST

New Delhi: Adieu or adios, rouse or mouse, or just winging it with a random word? It’s Wordle, the world in five letters as it were in which millions ponder the question daily when a blank grey grid opens up inviting players to put in a word – any word that can get them to the right answer in six tries.

Opening strategy is critical, and everyone has their own favourite, some going with words with the most vowels, others with consonants, those who use the same starter each day and then some who just pull out any old word.

The internet game has united the globe with the most disparate in thrall, right from the busy executive and the retired bureaucrat to the harried teacher and the prankster school student, their day incomplete unless they finish with the word of the day.

The fact that Wordle is not about downloading an app but just clicking on a link and can be played only once a day is part of the charm, said Shreya Punj, one of the many who makes sure she doesn’t miss her daily tryst with the puzzle.

”My partner finds it amusing that I have set an alarm for 12 midnight just so I can play the game before I call it a day. I’ve won 95 per cent of my games and have a 38- day streak (number of games she has won on the trot),” said the 29-year-old who leads the audiobooks division in Pocket FM. A moment after midnight, just as the clock strikes a new day, is when a new word is uploaded. It stays for exactly 24 hours.

For those still unversed with the latest internet sensation, Wordle is a word-guessing game where people are given a five-letter puzzle to solve in six tries each day. The correct letters show up in yellow boxes, correct letters, in correct places, will show up in green square boxes. Eliminated letters will be black. And so it goes on, each try eliminating letters till you get to the right combination. Each day leads to animated debate, in everyday conversations between friends, family and colleagues, on social media and sometimes even published articles.

Sometimes the word is easy and the player has most of the right letters but the combinations are many – try ‘hasty’, ‘pasty’, ‘tasty’ till you get to the right one ‘nasty’. It was nasty alright with four tries gone, many fumed. Or the day when the word was ‘caulk’ and Congress leader and wordsmith Shashi Tharoor, who had posted his score, was at the centre of many a conversation for getting to it before the more familiar ‘baulk’. According to Punj, there’s something old-school about Wordle that helps ”sustain excitement and wonder”.

She said she got hooked after she found her Twitter timeline flooded with Wordle scores posted by participants, a little grid of squares that tells you how many tries you got it in.

”I saw lots of people posting their results, was intrigued and went to check it out. One game, and I was hooked! More than FOMO (fear of missing out), it was the sheer joy of solving a puzzle together with so many new online acquaintances,” she said.

While Punj waits till the end of the day to flex her brains, Aishwarya Baikoh does it as she wakes up. The day doesn’t begin until she does.

”I’ve always liked puzzles and word games so I was tempted to ‘test’ my skills. I play the game first thing in the morning before even getting out of bed. The Wordle fever has taken over my Twitter feed and some of my friends and relatives,” said the 27-year-old podcaster.

So when 80-year-old Denyse Holt, a retired teacher from Chicago, did not upload her Wordle score for the day last month, her daughter in Seattle got worried. According to media reports, a man broke into Holt’s home and held her hostage for 17 hours. The daughter realised something was not quite right with her Wordle addict mother and called the police, which rescued the elderly woman. The Wordle backstory is as interesting as the online brain teaser — it has an India connection too.

It was created by US-based software engineer Josh Wardle for his Indian partner Palak Shah who loves word games. With Shah elated and the family’s Whatsapp group obsessed with the game, Wardle smelt success and introduced it to the rest of the world in October.

The rest, as they say, is history.

On November 1, just four months ago, only 90 people played it. Since then, the game has attracted many millions of users across the globe. The massive success led to the New York Times buying it for an ”undisclosed” seven-figure sum.

The acquisition was not particularly welcomed by its users who took to different social media platforms wondering if the NYT was trying to make their beloved Wordle harder by using words like ‘favor’ and ‘humor’, catching players off-guard with American spellings.

”Cannot wait for my next therapy session to start with ‘i hate NYT wordle and it’s really stressing me out because it’s either simple or too tough, there’s no in between’,” tweeted Anoop from Mumbai.

”Wordle made me happy earlier, all the NYT acquisition made it tough and is meddling with my confidence,” added Ruhi Prasad from Hyderabad. Wordle aficionado Nishant Kurup doesn’t quite agree. The change in Wordle’s ownership leading to complexity of words is ”social media hype” nothing else, he said.

”There have been a couple of strange words since NYT took over – one was ‘caulk’ and another hard one was ‘cynic’ because it uses a letter twice and only one vowel. Apart from these, the words have more or less been standard words which one uses daily,” Kurup, who works in a boutique, said. Baikoh argued that there were only so many five-letter words in the English language and ”some words will ultimately be more difficult than others”, something she believes was bound to happen even if Wardle or someone else was running the game.

Her only fear: ”the game will stop being free any day and will be hidden behind a paywall”.

The NYT, in its announcement, has said the game would ”initially remain free” to its current and new users. How long will it stay that way is anybody’s guess. Till then, play on, seems to be the motto of the Wordle obsessed.

Piggybacking on the popularity of the daily word puzzle game are multiple spin-offs, including Quordle, Dordle, Octordle, and Sedecordle. Many offer players unlimited games a day — so no waiting 24 hours for a new word — and multiple words to guess at one go.

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