Here’s Susie Dent’s top ten tips for the viral word game Wordle.
What’s in a Wordle? The answer turns out to be a huge amount, not least for the New York Times, which has just bought the viral linguistic phenomenon from its modest creator Josh Wardle. Created by Wardle as a pleasant distraction for his partner, Wordle has captured our hearts as well as our concentration, kicking off our day with a gentle and occasionally fiendish workout that leaves us wanting more. And therein lies Wordle’s power – we are rationed to only one a day. This is the puzzle world’s equivalent of slow TV.
The other joy of Wordle is its simplicity – like Countdown, its rules are readily understood within minutes of playing. You have six tries at a hidden word using a process of elimination. The world is set the same single challenge every day, making this essentially a collective code-breaking exercise.
Inevitably, then, we are all looking for strategies to crack that code as swiftly as possible. Personally, I like to mix up my starting guesses – the real pleasure for me is the cogitation that comes after. If however you prefer a more systematic approach, here are some tips that might help:
- Begin with a word that includes the most frequently used letters. Whichever dictionary database you look at, E will always be top of the list. Oxford Dictionaries has drawn up a frequency chart based on the letters occurring in the wordlist of the Concise Oxford Dictionary. This is the top ten:
At the bottom of the list, inevitably, are X, X, J, and Q which brings up the rear with just 0.2%.
- Letter frequency therefore means that words containing lots of vowels are a good starting point (even if U comes a little lower on the list, at number 11). A lot of people like to kick off with ADIEU, OPERA, or AEONS. I quite like NOISE. Others prefer to have a consonant or three to hang on to. Good potential starters in this case might be STARE, CLEAR, or RESIN.
- For the second guess, assuming few or none of the letters in your first try have landed, try including more letters in the frequency top ten. If CLEAR doesn’t come up trumps at all, for example, you could go with something like POINT.
- Pay attention to the letters that have been discounted. It is easy to get stuck in the mind groove of your first word and to want to riff on that one, but focus your eyes instead on the board below the game, which will show you which letters have been disallowed, as well as which are correct (even if you have to move their position).
- Forget duplicate letters until you’re on solid ground. While the target word might well repeat a letter – social media went into meltdown the day the answer was KNOLL – don’t waste a go by repeating one in your initial tries. You want as many chances as possible to land on a correct letter and to eliminate incorrect ones.
- Remember that Wordle is based on US English. A mighty fury was unleashed in Britain the day FAVOR appeared.
- Pace yourself. Rather wonderfully, there is no time pressure with Wordle. If inspiration fails you, you can come back to it in an hour or even four and take up where you left off.
- Remember this is meant to be fun! Letter frequency is all well and good, but sometimes it’s more entertaining to just dive in with whatever word floats your boat. The real joy, after all, is in the working out.
- Don’t feel any pressure to post your winning Wordle grid. This is a community game, for sure, but it can also be an entirely private pleasure far removed from the complicated mess that seems to exist everywhere else. If you want to play Wordle in your winter hibernacle, go for it.
- Obey the golden rule – no spoilers, no clues, no clever puns or jokes about today’s Wordle. No one will thank you for it, and – such has become the significance of this joyous game – you might just ruin someone’s day.