Everyone is trying to steal Wordle. There’s Evil Wordle, in which the “evil” part can be turned off so it’s just Wordle. There’s Absurdle, which is like Evil Wordle except without the most infringe-y part. There’s Sweardle, Letterdle (hilarious), Queerdle, Hello Wordl, and then some dude who literally just made a paid app called Wordle since the name wasn’t trademark protected, and then had an embarrassing meltdown when people told him he was being a dick.
Why the thefts, near-thefts, and homages? It’s because Wordle, the word game created by Josh Wardle for his partner that now sees upwards of two million players each day, is so elegant that it’s irresistible. (It’s also, apparently, pretty easy to code.) You probably already know how the game works, but if not, your job is to guess a five-letter word in six tries. Each time you get a letter correct, but in the wrong place, it will show up as yellow, and each time you get the right letter in the right place, it will show up green. Here’s an example from earlier this week, sent to me by a friend:
On the first guess, he nailed the A and R, but in the wrong order. On the second guess, in an attempt to get more vowels, he went with “radio” and got the additional information that the A was the second letter, and the word included an “O.” By guess three, he had correctly deduced that the word was _A_OR, and from there it was just bad luck that he had two very good possibilities to try before correctly answering FAVOR.
You get the gist—like many great games, it’s not complicated. Wordle can be enjoyed and played successfully by anyone, and unlike the crossword puzzle, there’s a huge element of luck at play here, which means that on a given day, with a given guess, anybody can beat anybody. I have a friend who has begun making ridiculous first guesses as a challenge, and two days ago, after starting with “zuzim,” he got “query” in three tries. My first guess was “hoary,” which you think would be great since it gave me the last two letters in their correct spots, but as you see, I got waxed by the zuzim guy:
Despite the luck element, there’s also a satisfying level of skill and strategy involved, and it’s easy to convince yourself you’re a genius after a smart play. In other words, this is a perfectly addictive piece of word game candy.
It has two other things going for it. First, a neat little shareable graphic that you can post on social media without spoiling anything, which is perfect for the attention-seeking divas and braggarts we’ve all become.
The graphic format is also good for a joke:
Best of all, though, Wordle is only available once per day. This is something I absolutely hated at the start, because I'm a sick digital content addict, but now that I have the availability to play Wordle-like games all the time, I simply do not. By limiting it to once per day, Wardle makes his game an event, something to be discussed and compared and contrasted and over-analyzed. Part of the reason he did this was to leave you wanting more, and the scarcity effect works, but I've come to really appreciate the simple fact that I do this one time each day, it takes two minutes, and then I'm out. It's ideal, and it feels like it took a bit of courage for the creator to stick to his daily schedule and enforce a non-deluge policy. Wordle asks nothing of me, I love it, and I find myself nodding along to tweets like these:
Wardle might cash out eventually, and he has every right to, but for now I like how his game just exists on a kind of internet island, asking nothing, taking nothing, and offering you a quick dose of fun before disappearing for 24 hours. I’m caged inside the internet like everyone else, probably more hopeless than most, but Wordle almost feels like a vision of what things could be if we didn’t spend our digital days swirling in the capitalistic vortex of constant come-ons.
Before we go too far in that direction, it’s probably best to come back to earth and acknowledge that making games is hard, making simple, digestible games that millions can enjoy is even harder, and making it just for the sheer lowercase entertainment of it all is about as rare an act as we can find online. Wardle’s vision, accidentally or not, has a kind of basic romance to it, and though we may forget Wordle with time or end up paying $40/year for “Wordle by Enron,” for now we can just delight in the sheer easy joy of the internet’s best new word game. As far as pandemic fads go, nothing else can touch it.
Shane Ryan is a writer and editor. You can find more of his writing and podcasting at Apocalypse Sports, and follow him on Twitter here .