There are dozens of different Wordle variations (that I’ve shared here below) that have sought to capitalize on the game’s popularity. Millions play the game daily. There are Star Wars versions and Harry Potter versions, food versions, Taylor Swift versions, and some that are not safe for work. You can play 2 at once, or 4, or 8, or 250. One of my favorites is a music version called Heardle since I’m a music aficionado with a keen ear for songs. But it’s really just Name That Tune repackaged. In fact, there’s nothing all that innovative about the original Wordle either, so what makes it so appealing that the NY Times paid the creator over a million dollars for it?
Well, let’s dive into that, but first let’s look at the culture around it including my experience. You can find some haters online bragging that they haven’t tried it, which itself is a sad little hill to mount your flag on. Many people can’t get enough and look forward to it each day (even if they believe the times made it harder). You can count me amongst them, as I’m currently on a 64 game winning streak-not yet needing more than 5 guesses. The last 2 days I’ve gotten it in 2. Yay me!
After my first few early games (in which I didn’t even fully understand the rules), I admit I did check out some strategy guides, but one of the greatest attributes of Wordle is how that’s really not necessary. Anyone familiar with the English language or the occasional game of Wheel of Fortune knows that the most common vowels are E and A and the best consonants to start are R, S, T, L, and N. So my first word contains as many of those as possible.
It’s now become a social event as well. My family text thread is littered with green and yellow boxes, and more people seem to respond to my daily Wordle post on Twitter than do any opinion I have on education, politics, or much else. And that could hurt my self-esteem a bit if I didn’t enjoy the game so much myself. So why do we like it? What’s so special about it?
What Makes It So Good
While nothing Wordle does is earth-shatteringly new, it does so many little things so well in combination that it becomes irresistible. It is a quality educational game, unlike so much other chocolate-covered broccoli that I have discussed before. And, yes, it is educational. My youngest son has come to me regularly having solved the Wordle despite not knowing the word. And after looking it up afterwards, his vocabulary has grown by one. And in other variations, I’m amazed at how is knowledge of geography has improved. And all because of what the game does well.
- Simplicity: All classic games start with simple questions. Here the question is “What is the secret five-letter word?” and we have a solid place to start. There are no complex mechanisms either. There are no buzzers or sounds or flashing lights. Just yellow, green, and blank squares to inform us how we did. That starkness stands in contrast to so many other things online that try to grab our attention boldlty. It’s not even an app. It’s just a website you have to head to.
- Failing Forward: Some games get us so nervous and unwilling to make mistakes, but Wordle demands it. In fact, a lot of of mistakes can be helpful in leeting us eliminate many possibilities. The game can be played on hard mode, and the times I’ve seen some failures are when people get 4 letters correct and just start trying different first letters. There’s also no defined way to get to the right answer. I could start withe tears and you could start with slime and we both may solve it in 3.
- Early Success: The simplicity of a 5 letter word leads most people to early success. We like doing well, especially if we were unsure of our success to begin with. So we keep at it. And with each day the failure draws nearer we want ever more to defy the odds.
- Low Floor, High Ceiling: A 6 year-old could play Wordle and beat it and a college professor could fail at it. The simplicity and easiness of the concept (knowing 5 letter words) lets kids with small vocabularies take a shot and build from there. But trying to solve it quickly using strategies and then having those strategies disolve when there are double letters can throw even knowlegable folks for a loop. And the English language is complex and strange enough for a lot of variation to challenge everyone, but you have rules you can abide also to improve your game. Those may include knowing it needs vowels except when you get a word like glyph. Or don’t guess q if there’s no unless it includes something like talaq. Stupid exceptions in weird English!
- Learning: This game doesn’t feel like a guilty pleasure. In fact it feels like we’re doing something at least mildly educational, so we feel good about our time spent with it. But first and foremost, any good learning game has to start as just an inherently fun game if we want it to be impactful.
- Daily Wait: Don’t underestimate being made to wait. As the adage goes, always leave them wanting more. And while there are Wordle variations here I’ve shared that you can play infinately, there is something lovely and quaint about waiting. Even moreso when you consider all the fast-paced hecticness of our other social-media-addled attention span shrinking world.
- Social: It became viral for this very reason. We want to share our successes, but often people want to share their frustrations with the game just as much. Should we have colloquialisms like bloke? A lot of folks got mad at regional words like rupee. Should we expect ruble or dinar next? And the number of Brits frustrated by weird American spellings like armor with no u has been large. but there’s something unifying about all of us smashing upon the wall of Wordle together.
And while I have the Wakelet links below, it is sorted and easier to view on the Wakelet site. So head to my Wakelet Wordle collection directly for all the variations including multiple ways to make your own.