What is Making Me Happy: Wordle

Following the model of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour and, to a lesser extent, the Make Me Smart daily podcast, I want to remind myself that there are things that bring me joy. These posts are meant to be quick hits that identify and/or recommend things—usually artistic or cultural, sometimes culinary—that are making me happy in a given week. I am making this quick format a semi-regular feature.

This week: Wordle

I stopped posting my Wordle updates to Twitter after just one or two posts. In part this was because of people pointing out that a wall of emojis is hard on screen-readers, but the bigger part was that I don’t find these posts interesting—from me or from anyone else. The game can inspire interesting conversations, I think, but Twitter is not to the place to have them.

For the handful of people who have not been swept up in the obsession, Wordle is a simple, no-frills word game. You have six guesses to identify the day’s five-letter word. If you correctly identify a letter in its location the game gives you a green square. If the letter is correct, but in the wrong spot the square turns yellow. This mechanic allows you to go through a process of elimination until you correctly determine the day’s word.

Wordle is not the first word game to go viral on the internet recently. Spelling Bee (and analogs) was a diverting game for a time, but it couldn’t hold my attention like this one. The difference is the amount of time that each game takes. I found that Spelling Bee required quite an investment of time, making it good for long trips but not something I could do every day. Wordle, by contrast, I do in just a couple of minutes first thing in the morning.

While I am not interested in seeing how people did on each day’s Wordle in the abstract, there are two things that fascinate me about the game.

First, I have taken to using my own guesses as an internal barometer for where my head is at in the morning. I think what I am obsessed with is how I choose the words I come up with un-caffeinated and barely awake. About a week ago, for instance, I was at a loss for a word when my brain threw out “capon,” which I knew was a word but couldn’t define (it is a castrated rooster). More frequently this just amounts to a goofy reflection on the order of the words as I throw them out.

These generally aren’t bad and I like to avoid re-using words where possible, but what does it say that I go from “doubt” to “vomit” to “joint” before getting to the right answer?

Second, the competitive part of my personality is taken by the strategy in Wordle. The game does not award bonus points for fewer guesses, just whether you get it correct or not. Everything else is just a matter of pride. But pride also makes it fun.

A few weeks ago I saw some discussion of “optimal strategy” that generally involved some variation on the approach to Wheel of Fortune where you should spam the most common consonants in the early words because, statistically, those are the most likely to get you letters on the board. I suspect that this strategy increases the odds of getting the correct answer on the first or second guess, but I have developed a strategy that has worked for all 22 puzzles I have done, all in the 3rd, 4th, or 5th guess.

My strategy mostly disregards consonants when coming up my first guess. All things being equal, I’d like to use several common consonants (tnshr), but since I also enjoy coming up with odd words I don’t worry too much. What I am looking for in my first and second guess are vowels because there are fewer vowels than there are consonants and the vowels will serve as my constraints going forward. Starting with my third guess, I start to consider possible double letters (the green/yellow system won’t alert you to these and will sometimes mislead). In one instance this strategy took me from a single yellow square on my first two guesses to the correct answer on the third.

One of these days Wordle will stump me. Nevertheless, I am quite enjoying this short, simple, daily word game.