Wordle took the world by storm, and fans are mad at the New York Times

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I’m an avid puzzle-doer-game-player. Always have been. Board games and playing cards were an integral part of my family life growing up. I incorporated the same traditions in my own family, as an adult. We love games. I also happen to have a fear of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. To keep my brain healthy, I strengthen it with word and number puzzles. Crosswords, word search, Sudoku — you name it, I’ll play it. My sister recently sent me a text, asking, “Are you playing Wordle? If so, we can compete.” I replied, “I don’t know what that is.” She then sent me a link (which you will find later on, in this post) and, as soon as I tried it, I was hooked!

A man named Josh Wardle invented the game, then shared the link so that others could play. He had no idea, at the time, how fast his game’s popularity would sweep the nation. In fact, in no time at all, it became a global phenomenon and now has more than 3 million players throughout the world! Wardle received an undisclosed-to-the-public 7-figure offer from the New York Times (NYT). The NYT is known for its challenging word puzzles. Wardle sold the rights to his game to the NYT, and within a few days of the takeover, players started getting upset. So, what’s all the fuss about? What IS Wordle, and why are people so mad at the Times?

A round of Wordle is completed in 6 steps or less

Wheel of Fortune fans can easily relate to Wordle. When you click the link to play the game, you’re met with six rows of blank squares, with five squares in each row. The object of the game is to guess the “Wordle” of the day. There is only one possible correct answer. In other words, all of the 3-million-plus players around the globe are given the same secret word to guess. Once you play a round of Wordle, you must wait until the next day for a new Wordle word. A little countdown clock in the bottom of your screen tells you exactly how long it will be until your next Wordle is ready to play.

You start the game by typing in a word of your choice. It can be any word. Players who are used to word-guessing games might have a few tricks up their sleeves on how to rule out letters or discover letters in that first row. For instance, I always try to type in a word that contains at least three vowels. This way, I either get the vowels correct before my second attempt or rule out a bunch of them.

Step 2 in Wordle is a Code of Many Colors (pun intended, lol)

Wordle is color-coded. When you type in your guess words, the squares flip, just as Vanna would flip them on Wheel of Fortune. When they flip, they will turn one of three colors. If they are gray, it means that your chosen letter is not in the secret Wordle for the day. If they turn a golden color, it means that your letter IS in the secret word, but you have it in the wrong position. Finally, if you get a green square, it means that you have the correct letter in the correct space!

Using the color code that has appeared after your first-row Wordle entry, you then try to figure out the secret word of the day within your next five attempts. It’s fun and challenging. There’s even a button to click that shares your results for the day without revealing the secret word. This is how my sister and I compete. We take turns going first each day, then share our results with each other. We keep a running list of wins, losses and ties. (Unfortunately for me, she is way ahead, which doesn’t surprise me because she’s one of the most intelligent people I know. I’ll keep trying!) Josh Wardle said that he was utterly shocked at the way his game took the world by storm. People love it, or, I should say, “loved” it, until the Times took over.

Why are players so mad at the New York Times?

As I mentioned earlier, the NYT is notorious for its word puzzles, which are considered top-level challenges in the inner circles of avid word-puzzle-doers. From Day 1 of the NYT takeover of Wordle, players were upset. Headlines plastered online news columns. What was the complaint? The Wordle that day was a word that most players had never even heard of, myself included! I have an expansive vocabulary, and I had never heard of the word “swill” in my entire life. I’d never even come across it while reading, and I’m an avid reader!

If you already know what “swill” means, I congratulate you! If you don’t, it means “to wash or clean by pouring large amounts of water over or into something” or “to drink something greedily or in large amounts.” Truth be told, I was actually somewhat relieved when I read the news that millions of Wordle players were ticked off at the Times that day. I thought it was just me who had never heard of “swill” and was feeling a bit deflated and inferior about it. lol (I forgot to ask my sister if she solved the puzzle by process of elimination or if she knew that word and intentionally entered it. Maybe I don’t want to know the answer because — you know how sisters are — pretty competitive.)

Things got worse from there

It didn’t take long before Wordle fans were asking what happened and why the puzzles were increasing so much in difficulty. People kept saying they liked it better when Josh Wardle was choosing the secret words. Players were very unhappy with the way the NYT was running the game. The Times was also including a lot of repeated consonant words, such as “dodge” or “tacit.” The latter REALLY made people mad because, apparently, not many people were familiar with that word either, although I consider that a basic adult-level vocabulary word. At any rate, when there are repeating consonants, it makes guessing a challenge, for sure. Wordle fans became angry as all get out, saying that the NYT took a perfectly enjoyable new trending game and ruined it.

There’s a lot more to word puzzles than meets the eye

Many people don’t realize that there is a ‘science’ to developing word puzzles, such as the ones you can find in major publications like the NYT. There’s also a ‘science’ to learning to solve puzzle games like Wordle. Top-level players understand the complex workings of deduction in such games. This includes elimination of vowels or consonants, discovering vowel-blends or consonant blends early on, and knowing when to try repeating letters or obscure words as guesses.

There are basic strategies, that, when applied, can help make doing word puzzles easier. I’m not sure about Wordle, but I know that the NYT crossword puzzle is easiest on Mondays and increases in difficulty as the week goes on. (Note to self: Pay closer attention to the next week’s Wordle words to see if there’s a similar pattern.) When Josh Wardle invented the game, he narrowed down the possible 5-letter word list. There are approximately 12,000 5-letter words in the English language. Wardle asked his girlfriend (for whom he had initially created the game as a gift) to narrow down the list. She wound up with approximately 2,500 that she believed would be familiar to most players. (Out of 12,000? Yikes! What does that say about English-speakers’ vocabulary?)

Perhaps the NYT went back to using the entire 12,000-word list, and that’s why it has become so challenging for Wordle players. If you want to give Wordle a try, you can do so here: Play Wordle. Before you start playing, you might want to read this article about Wordle strategies. If you’ve been playing Wordle, we want to hear from you! Have you noticed an increase of difficulty since the NYT took over the game? Do you still enjoy playing it as much as you did when Josh Wardle was running the puzzles?

Wordle adds fun to daily life and boosts cognitive brain health

Many Wordle fans say they’re addicted to the game. I don’t necessarily think the word “addiction” carries a positive connotation. Is it ever good to be “addicted” to something? I prefer to say that the game is engaging and that I eagerly look forward to playing it each morning. Playing word games is good for your brain health. In the past two years, cognitive function has been at risk in the general population. Playing a daily word game might be just what you need to boost your brain power!

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