Over the winter break, I visited my family in Williamsburg, Virginia for about a month or so. While I was there, my mother asked me a very interesting question: ‘What’s a five letter word that ends in ‘GE’ and has an ‘S’ somewhere?’
If any of you have been on the internet in any capacity over the course of the past couple months, you probably already have some idea of why she was asking. For some time now, the daily logic game “Wordle” has been extremely prevalent online, going from a niche everyday puzzle to a worldwide phenomenon that has spawned a great deal of derivative works.
Nowadays, I get about three texts a day from my mother, each for a different variation of the game that she’s solved. Typically, if I have time, I’ll go take a look at it and send her back my own solution. This back-and-forth seems to be the main reason that the game has become so much more popular; The fact that everyone is playing the same puzzle on any given day means that there’s room for a social aspect. Of course there will always be the Twitter ne’er-do-wells who spoil the solutions for others, but largely people seem to be genuinely enjoying hearing each other react to this simple vocabulary game. However, the formula of the game also contributes greatly to this.
The original game of Wordle is incredibly simple, and in itself is actually derivative of an existing game, Mastermind. In Wordle, every day there is a new word for you to guess. Five letters long, six possible guesses. When you get a letter correct but in the wrong place, the game tells you. When you get a letter correct and in the right place, it tells you that too. When you guess a letter that isn’t anywhere in the word, the game will strike it from the keyboard (although you can still use it for guesses). After six incorrect guesses, you lose. Get the word right, and you win.
The game will not allow any guesses that either aren’t real words or it doesn’t have in its word bank. Overall, pretty simple to understand, which makes its sudden rise to fame that much more understandable. And when I say the game is famous, I really mean it. The game hasn’t been active for even a full year yet, but already Google features an easter egg when you search the word “Wordle.” The game launched in October of last year, and was taken onboard by the New York Times as an official puzzle in January only three months later.
By the way, about those derivative games I mentioned earlier? My mother regularly sends me her solution records of Nerdle, a game in which you guess a mathematical equation via the same confirmation methods as Wordle, as well as Dordle, an itch.io-hosted game where two Wordle answers are determined simultaneously using the same guesses from the player. The Nintendo eShop on Nintendo Switch recently added “Words With Freds,” a game following the Wordle formula but allowing players to play with as many words as they like instead of changing one each day. While this does remove the newspaper-esque puzzle and solution aspect that the original boasts, it does allow for longer sessions if someone cares more about the puzzle itself than the social aspect.
Watching these games unfold from one another brings me an odd sense of misplaced nostalgia; I find myself brought back to the Facebook/Zynga era, where as a kid I would hear parents and teachers discuss how they were performing in Farmville and Mafia Wars, or my elementary classmates talking about how far they were able to get in Mighty Guy on Funbrain, or Bloxorz on Coolmath, or Doodle Jump on mobile devices.
I’ll readily admit to having been fairly stuck up about casual games at the time, but these were the exceptions. A game being available for everyone to crowd around online and discuss in person, setting trends and conversation topics that most people could participate in…This feels like a return to form, somehow.
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