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Wordle explained: Everything you need to know

Wordle is taking over the... worldle.

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A Wordle puzzle from December. 

Power Language

Wordle is everywhere and completely unavoidable, especially if you spend any time at all on Twitter. Seen posts featuring yellow, green and gray boxes? Yep, that's Wordle. Even Jimmy Fallon plays Wordle! But... what the hell is Wordle? We're glad you asked. 

What is Wordle?

Wordle is a daily word game you can find online here. It's fun, simple and, like a crossword, can only be played once a day. Every 24 hours there's a new word of the day, and it's up to you to figure it out what it is. The site itself does a fantastic job of explaining the rules:

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This game is so good.

Wordle

Wordle gives players six chances to guess a randomly selected five-letter word. As shown above, if you have the right letter in the right spot, it shows up green. A correct letter in the wrong spot shows up yellow. A letter that isn't in the word in any spot shows up gray. 

You can enter a total of six words, meaning you can enter five burner words from which you can learn hints about the letters and their placements. Then you get one chance to put those hints to use. Or you can try for performance and guess the word of the day in three, two or even one go.

Simple stuff, but also incredibly compelling. 

So it's just a word game? Big deal...

Yeah, it's just a word game. But it's super popular: Over 300,000 people play it daily, according to The New York Times. That popularity may sound perplexing, but there are a few tiny details that have resulted in everyone going absolutely bonkers for it.

There's only one puzzle per day: This creates a certain level of stakes. You only get one shot at the Wordle. If you mess up, you have to wait until tomorrow to get a brand new puzzle. 

Everyone is playing the exact same puzzle: This is crucial, as it makes it easier to ping your buddy and chat about the day's puzzle. "Today's was tough!" "How did you get on?" "Did you get it?" Which takes us to the next point...

It's easy to share your results: Once you've successfully or unsuccessfully done the puzzle for the day, you're invited to share your Wordle journey for the day. If you tweet the image, it looks like this...

Note that the word and letters you chose are obscured. All that's shown is your journey toward the word in a series of yellow, green and gray boxes.

It's very compelling. If you get it easily, maybe in the second or third try, there's gloating element whereby you must show your followers how smart you are and share.

If you get it by the skin of your teeth in the sixth go, that's also a cool story. But most importantly, the puzzle itself isn't spoiled. 

So Wordle isn't just a word game, it's a conversation starter and a chance to show off on social media. That's why it's going viral. 

Tips and tricks

If you're a word game purist, you may want to avoid the following tips and rely entirely on your own instincts. For everyone else who's sick of seeing gray boxes, here are some tips that you may find helpful.

Choosing your first word: The first word is arguably the most important. To maximize the value of your opening gambit, choose a word with three vowels and five different letters. Some examples: orate, media, radio. I always use "adieu" for some reason. It's a habit and I'm refusing to break it.

I just finished reading a fascinating piece by Tyler Glaiel, a programmer and game designer who tried to figure out the best possible starting word. Apparently we should all be kicking off Wordle with the word "roate." Honestly, read this whole article, it's great.

Avoid reusing grays: There's a keyboard at the bottom of the Wordle board that shows what letters are green, yellow and grey. Avoid reusing letters that have come up gray. Yes, this sounds obvious. But it can take time and effort to think of five-letter words that don't use letters you've already tried. That effort will pay off.

Letters can appear twice: This complicates matters, especially when you're running out of letters to try on word four or five. But letters often recur, as with words like chill, sissy and ferry having been the correct answers in the past. 

Who made Wordle?

Wordle is the work of software engineer Josh Wardle, who originally created the game for his partner, a fan of word games, and tells the BBC it will never become laden with ads. Extremely online people may remember Wardle as the creator of Place, an utterly wild collaborative art project/social experiment that sent the internet into a tizzy in April 2017.

Place was a shared online space that allowed literally anyone to fight over what was drawn there. It resulted in huge, sprawling communities battling over space on this gigantic online canvas. 

It ultimately ended up looking like this: 

Image from the online space Place

Remember Place? That was a wild time.

Reddit

Wordle got a mention in The New York Times in November, but really got traction when the share element got added.

In a Reddit post, Wardle said he wanted Wordle to feel like a croissant, a "delightful snack" that is enjoyed occasionally. This is explicitly why there's only one puzzle per day. "Enjoyed too often," he explained, "and they lose their charm," Wardle says.  

Agreed. 

Be wary of Wordle clones

Following the success of Wordle, app stores have become flooded with Wordle clones, so be wary. Apple pulls Wordle clones from App Store, but who knows, more might pop up. 

Sure, the rules behind Wordle are hardly groundbreaking or original (anyone remember the Mastermind board game?), but if you want to be playing and discussing the same game as everyone else, you need to be on the browser-based game. There is no app. The Wordle you want to be playing can be found here at the Power Language site. Anything else using the name "Wordle" is most likely a rip-off. There are even some apps trying to charge money to play. One is even charging a $30 subscription fee. 

Steer clear.