Commentary: I've trained myself to use one particular starter word, and I just can't get off the train. Yes, that's a hint.
I've written a lot about Wordle -- from best starter words to a helpful two-step strategy to controversial word changes. I've even rounded up what I learned playing the hit online word puzzle for a full year. But I haven't written much about Wordle recently, because I'm not making a lot of changes to my strategy. You see, I've found a favorite Wordle starter word and I just can't give it up.
Wordle starter-word methodology is very personal. One person told me they just look around whatever room they're in and choose a five-letter object to use as their starter word -- hello, COUCH or CHAIR. Early on, I followed many Wordle players and chose ADIEU, because it told me where four vowels might be.
The New York Times, which bought the game from creator Josh Wardle for seven figures in 2022, examined user data from the summer of 2022 and found that ADIEU was one of the top five guesses, used by an average of 5% of users each day -- millions of players. But I decided it was the consonants I really needed to narrow down early. The vowels take care of themselves, mostly.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates loves Wordle, too, and says he and a group of friends share their daily scores to see who comes out on top. In a video, Gates shows his method of play and talks through it, and he begins with AUDIO -- very similar to ADIEU, just subbing in the O for the E. Gates may be a billionaire, but E shows up more in English words than O does. So really, he should choose ADIEU over AUDIO if it's vowels he wants to find.
But then I started digging into the science of letter frequency. There's a wonderfully geeky explanation on Reddit about why ROATE is the best word based on letter popularity (but it will never give you a win-in-one, because it's not on the list of 2315 original Wordle words -- a list which has since been slightly edited by the Times). Many people know Wheel of Fortune players like to choose some combination of the letters RSTLNE due to their high frequency. These are fine strategies, but they just didn't click with me.
This all led to my favorite Wordle starter word, TRAIN. It uses three of those Wheel of Fortune letters, plus two popular vowels, it's surely on the Wordle 2315-word list, and it's easy to remember. It also puts some letters in prime spots. T is a common first letter (maybe THE most common first letter), and R is good in the second spot because many words begin with BR, TR, CR, DR, and the like. N is a pretty acceptable end-word letter, too.
I would argue that there's no objectively best starter word, and that makes it more fun. ROATE and ORATE might have some super popular letters, but I've found that TRAIN often nabs me two or three letters, usually with at least one in the proper spot. TRAIN is also a satisfying word to remember and type, and the results are pretty solid, time after time. (A friend prefers TRAIL, and that's fine for her, but N shows up more frequently than L.)
Another reason I like TRAIN? According to multiple lists, T is the most used first letter in English words. So there's a better-than-most chance that not only will the word have a T, but it'll turn up green, meaning T is the first letter of the word. The earlier I know the answer's first letter, the better.
I'm still not perfectly happy with my standard second word, which is CLOSE. It certainly pulls in five more popular letters, without any repetition. But I don't love it. Many times, it gives me no correct letters, which does nothing except eliminate five letter choices. That's helpful, but kind of discouraging. Maybe I need a better second word, one that uses E, O and S, but hits more often. The jury is still out.
But since I discovered TRAIN, I've decided my second word is much less important than simple second-guess strategy.
Once TRAIN has nailed me some letters, my gameplay method immediately shifts. If any letters are green, meaning they're in the right spot already, hey, that's a huge help. But it's the yellow letters, meaning they're in the words in a different spot, that really help with that second-word choice. I mentally play with those yellow letters, hunting out spots where they seem to belong.
As long as TRAIN gave me a couple of options, I'm usually able to advance my game by juggling those letters on my second guess, often scoring a win on guess No. 3.
If you're in that spot -- have a few yellow letters in need of correct placement, but can't seem to find a word using them -- here are two tips.
First, remember that many words do start with vowels, and Wordle seems to choose those frequently.
Also, note that letters may appear twice. So even if a word has a green T (or whatever) in a specific spot, don't stop thinking about that letter. There could be another T (even two more). More than once in my early playing days, I've made the mistake of ignoring a green letter, figuring I already nailed that one, and forgetting it might be in the word again.