It's been a year for Wordle. Software engineer Josh Wardle made the game public in 2021, and The New York Times bought it for a whopping seven figures in January 2022. I don't think I've started a day without it since. Or ended a day, I should say... the Times posts a new puzzle at midnight, and I'm usually up then. Solving Wordle is one of the last things I do before I go to bed.
I'd go as far as to say that Wordle, more than any TV show, movie, book or podcast, has been my favorite pop-culture escape of 2022. I don't sweat about streaks -- if I swing for the fences on the last guess and miss, eh, who cares? Also, I'm not big on sharing my results. I'm never interested in how long it took someone else to get the answer, and I assume they're equally uninterested in me.
But I am interested in tips and tricks and best starter words to solve the puzzle. I think it's OK to change your strategy as you go -- and I know that the more I've played, the more my strategy has sharpened. Here's what I've learned from a year of near-obsessive Wordleing.
1. Starter words are so important
You can start guessing with any word, but mentally, I need a good solid word to start me off strong. I used to use ADIEU, the most basic of basic starter words, because I liked having so many vowels. But after a year of playing, I decided I like mixing in popular consonants. My favorite starter is TRAIN, which gives me some of the most popularly used consonants, plus two vowels. I tend to go next to CLOSE, and then BUMPY. But sometimes, TRAIN gives me so many letters that I start guessing right away with a word that looks to fit the pattern.
Readers sent me some of their favorite combos, which I'm keeping in my back pocket for when I want to switch things up. It's interesting that two of their starter words start with "TR," just like my standby, TRAIN.
Follow the TREND
From Randy: "TREND is always first word. If there is no E, then GHOUL. If there is an E, I skip to JAMBS. Last word is PICKY."
Later, Randy changed things up slightly: "I really like TREND, FLASH, GUMBO, PICKY. Like in 'Wheel of Fortune,' RSTINE are in TREND and FLASH. Four words, all letters except QWZXVJ."
Stick to the TRAIL
Jeff was on a 206-game streak when he sent in his top three starters, which originally were TRAIL, CONES and DUMPY.
He later changed CONES to SCONE, noting that in Wordle, "S" hardly ever shows at the end of a word, since the NYT editors said publicly they won't use regular plurals (meaning the word will never be a simple plural, like FOXES or SPOTS, words that just add an S or ES to a singular word. But it might be a plural that's more complex, like GEESE).
Rusty reported having good luck with his first name as the first starter word.
"The first three should be RUSTY, PLACE, BOING or BOINK," he said. "That last word depends on if there is a C or an L that was matched yet."
And my best friend, Lisa, a devoted Wordle player, is doing very well these days with ROAST as her starter word. Sometimes, to switch it up, she starts with BEAST.
2. Don't forget that letters can be used more than once
I've been guilty of thinking Wordle words don't repeat letters. That's just wrong -- they do. Just because the puzzle tells me there's, for example, an E in the last space, doesn't mean there can't be another E somewhere. I used to get stuck on the idea of not retrying letters once they'd been identified as being in the word. I try not to think that way now.
3. Some words start with vowels
This is probably a big DUH for most of you, but I tend to get stuck on the idea that a word must start with a consonant. That's a big error on my part -- and ERROR would actually be a good vowel-starting guess, especially if I had an R already but didn't know where it was. I also sometimes fall into the trap of guessing "consonant, vowel," when really, many words start with two consonants -- BR, WH, that kind of combo.
4. Don't forget Y
Remember that old vowel rule "sometimes Y." Y can stand in as a vowel, so if you're frustrated because AEIO and U aren't showing up, think Y. The word could be NYMPH or CRYPT or one of many other options. Or maybe Y isn't the only vowel but its location is throwing you off. I like BUMPY to get Y in the guess rotation, to check if the word ends with it.
5. Test out your guesses
The most helpful thing for me, after having a good starter word or two, is to utilize the grid itself. I like to type possibilities into the Wordle grid using an "X" where I don't know the letter. Maybe I know the word ends in "ER" and somewhere in there is a D. So I might type in DXXER and then try to figure it out from there. (DIVER?) If I don't see anything, I retype with the D in a different spot. And I try to remember there could be more than one D, E or R.
I choose an X because I like to type it right into the Wordle grid, and X seems the most like a blank to me. Since these attempts aren't really words, there's no danger of me accidentally hitting enter and wasting a guess by mistake.
6. Give yourself time
My final lesson from a year of doing Wordle? Give yourself time. This game doesn't have a ticking clock. If I'm up at midnight and I get three guesses in and am stumped, I turn off my light and sleep on it. Sometimes taking a fresh look at it in the morning is all I need to see the answer.
And if you don't consider online help cheating, you can try a site like Crossword Solver, where you tell it you're looking for a five-letter word, and then type in the letters you do have. This only really helps if you know what position at least two letters are in, but if you've got good starters, you often will.
Here's to another year of starter words and new strategies. I'm sure I'll change everything up in 2023.