The Word(le) on the Street

Rachel Schlueter, Editor-in-Chief


To some, these may seem like ordinary five-letter words, but to a dedicated Wordle player, these are the lifeline to achieving the fewest number of guesses possible. 

Wordle has taken over the internet by storm (another popular Wordle start word). Ask almost anyone, “How many guesses did it take you?” and they will immediately understand the reference. 

The rules of Wordle are simple: six tries to guess the daily five-letter word. After each guess, the game will indicate which letters are correct using a color system: green meaning a correct letter is in the correct place, yellow meaning a correct letter is in the wrong place and gray meaning the letter is not in the word at all.

Josh Wardle, a Brooklyn software engineer, created Wordle for his partner, Parak Shah, whom Wardle shared a love of daily word games with, particularly the New York Times (NYT) crossword and Spelling Bee game. Wordle first appeared as a plain, ad-free website in Oct. with 90 users on Nov 1. 

“I think people kind of appreciate that there’s this thing online that’s just fun,” Josh Wardle said in an interview with the NYT. “It’s not trying to do anything shady with your data or your eyeballs. It’s just a game that’s fun.”

Little did Wardle know that his gift to Shah would evolve into an overnight sensation. By Jan., the Wordle player base grew to 300,000. Now, millions of people play daily. 

Wordle has a word bank of 2,500 words, which Shah narrowed down from the original list of all 12,000 five-letter words in the English dictionary. She eliminated words she believed would be too difficult for users. This group of 2,500 words will last a few years. Wordle allows over 10,000 different five-letter words, of varying obscurity, as guess words.

The goal to guess one of these 2,500 words has given birth to a number of different strategies and debates. One of the most thought-provoking: which Wordle start word, or first guess, to use. Some prefer to settle the vowels first, with words like AUDIO or ADIEU. Others prefer to try words that have a mix of common consonants and vowels, like HEART or LEAFS. 

“[My start word] is usually whatever I’m feeling,” math teacher Carolyn Tabrizi said. “I’ve used EXTRA, SHARE, CHORE. I like to get a different blend of letters, typically with Ss or Ts or vowel patterns to rule out letters.”

Other players prefer to have a go-to start word. 

“I’ve been trying recently to switch up my starting word each day, but SOARE has been my favorite so far,” Regan Hau (’22) said. 

Hau always plays Wordle in her car before swim practice at 4:30 a.m., just four and a half hours after the day’s Wordle comes out. 

“If I don’t finish it at practice then I like to work on it with friends while waiting in the car before first period,” Hau said. 

Tabrizi also plays in the morning and has a tradition of sending it to her brother to compare results. 

“It’s usually back and forth between us,” Tabrizi said. “We tied on our last one.” 

But Tabrizi, who guessed CHANT in two tries, was certain that she would beat her brother that day. 

Though guessing five-letter words may seem like a straightforward task, words like CAULK and BLOKE have grown to become infamous for their trickiness. A repeating letter, evident in TACIT, or common ending, such as in TROVE, can be enough to trip even the most experienced users up.

“My first Wordle ever was ABBEY, and that has been the only word I couldn’t guess,” Hau said. “Otherwise I thought FRAME was difficult because there are tons of options for the second and last letter.”

For Tabrizi, PLEAT was particularly problematic. 

“I was missing the P, and it just wasn’t coming,” Tabrizi said. “The other teacher was like, ‘just start at the alphabet and say it all to me.’ I’m saying them out loud, I was like ‘P, oh yup that’s the word.’ It didn’t even hit me until I said it out loud.”

Some players blame the occasional difficulty on the NYT, who acquired Wordle in late Jan. for a price in the “low seven figures,” according to the news organization in a move to further develop its online game profile, in addition to the crossword and Spelling Bee. 

“I’ve heard that the words haven’t changed at all since the NYT bought Wordle but I personally think that they have been harder recently,” Hau said. “There have at least been way more words with double letters recently which kill me.”

But, according to a survey of 176 students, Madison is split on the opinion of the NYT Wordle, with 41.5% preferring the game before the purchase and 39.6% preferring the game after the purchase. Despite perceptions of the NYT, many Wordle players still enjoy the game and the daily dose of happiness it brings. 

“I was proud to have been able to guess “ULCER” in three,” Hau said. 

Though Wordle only provides one play per day, players have gotten creative with Wordle varieties. 

Some Madison favorites include Wordle Unlimited, with an infinite number of games to play for users who cannot wait until midnight for the new Wordle. Hau’s favorite is Quordle, where players have nine chances to guess the four words on four Wordle boards. For those who prefer numbers to letters, Nerdle is the perfect option: players have six chances to guess an equation, using digits and mathematical operation symbols. 

“I’ve done the Nerdle a little bit,” Tabrizi said. “I wish they had the equal sign in a designated place. That would make it a little easier or a little more enjoyable because there are so many possibilities that it’s overwhelming.”

Whether it is the classic Wordle or a fun variation, this beloved word game is sure to bring a simple pleasure that is much appreciated in this age. 

“Wordle is like those Zoom party games that popped up during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Tabrizi said. “It’s a group game that links you to other people and gives you a reason to stay in touch with them virtually.”