The waning days of 2021 introduced us to a new genre of the tweet: Green, yellow, and grey boxes arranged in a 5-wide grid with as many as six rows. The tweets also include some indecipherable-to-outsiders numbers and a funny, little non-word: Wordle.
Maybe you’ve asked Google about this yourself already. It’s easy enough to find out what Wordle is, and from there decipher the grids and numbers people have been tweeting. Maybe you’ve been playing obsessively for months already.
But you also want to understand why right? It’s one thing to read that Spider-Man: No Way Home is a giant love letter to fandom, but it’s a whole other thing to see the movie’s surprising and deeply fulfilling twists and turns for yourself.
So what is it about this thing called Wordle that’s gotten so many people talking about it in shared public spaces?
What is Wordle?
Yeah, I just said this is an easy question to answer. But for the sake of completeness, let’s start with the basics.
Wordle is a daily word game created by Josh Wardle, a Brooklyn-based software engineer who has developed something of a reputation as a crafter of interesting social experiments. Every day, the people of the internet are greeted with a fresh word puzzle that can only be solved — or not! — using a series of process-of-elimination clues.
How does Wordle work? How do you do Wordle?
It works like this: When you visit the Wordle website, you’re greeted by 5-wide by a 6-long grid of empty, white boxes. Each box can hold one letter, and so you guess the answer by typing in a five-letter word and pressing ‘Enter’.
There aren’t any clues up front, so any five-letter word will do as an initial guess. That’s where the game of Wordle really starts. When you send a guess along, the color of each letter’s box changes.
- If it turns green, that letter is in the daily word and you’ve placed it in the right spot.
- If it turns yellow, the letter is in the word but you have it in the wrong position.
- If the box turns grey, it means the letter isn’t in the word at all.
The website serves up a simple explainer graphic for first-time visitors that lays it all out clearly.
How do you start Wordle? Best starting words?
We have some ideas to help you select the perfect opening. Some of those tips include choosing a word with at least two different vowels in it, plus a few common consonants such as S, T, R, or N.
Why is Wordle such a big deal?
Wordle has been available since October 2021 as a daily word game that anyone online can play for free. It only exploded more recently, after Wardle announced the addition of a “Share” feature in mid-December that makes it easy to post your daily performance online
The platform-agnostic feature doesn’t connect to any specific social platform. Instead, it copies that grid we’ve been seeing so much of on Twitter to your device’s clipboard, like emojis. You can then take that copied text and paste it into a post for your preferred social media feed.
(If you have the technical capability, I’d recommend pasting your results text somewhere neutral, screenshotting it, and posting that instead. Doing so allows you to add explanatory alt text for people who can’t read a post directly off the screen.)
That explains why we suddenly started to see a lot more talk around Wordle in the waning weeks of 2021: Wardle made it easy for people to bring their brags to their favored internet water cooler. But there’s still the more basic question of why people are flocking to this thing, to begin with.
It’s honestly best — and easiest — if you go try it for yourself. There’s no cost to play Wordle; you just go to the website, make your guesses, and that’s it for the day. Then you can decide for yourself if it’s something you want to turn into a daily pastime.
Personally, I think Wordle‘s success lands somewhere between the New York Times crossword puzzle and Wheel of Fortune. The hidden word changes daily but, just like NYT crosswords, it’s the same for everyone each day — so it’s an experience every player shares, even if they take different routes to find the same answer. And the puzzle itself is limited to just one, five-letter word, which makes it more like Wheel‘s mainstream “anyone can do this” appeal.
Then add in the brilliant sharing feature which uses non-specific colored box emoji to let people easily and clearly brag about their Wordle wins. When you post one of those indecipherable-to-outsiders grids on social media, you’re implicitly telling every follower, “Hey, I play this too. We’re in on this cool internet thing together. Let’s talk about it.”
Is there a Wordle app for Android or iOS? Is Wordle free?
My first instinct when I learned of Wordle‘s existence was to fire up an app store and search for it. Surely, I reasoned this immensely popular thing on Twitter was tied to an app of some kind.
You might find “Wordle” results in an iOS App Store or Google Play Store search, but don’t mistake it for the real thing. Wordle, the original one Josh Wardle came up with and kindly delivered onto the internet in late 2021, currently only exists as a browser game that lives right here. If you’re playing it anywhere else, it’s — at best — a shameless knock-off that’s trying to capitalize on someone else’s success.
And, yes, it’s still free.
Who made Wordle? Where did Wordle come from?
Wordle’s sudden explosion at the end of 2021 led to a round of press focused on its creator. Wardle actually came up with the game in 2021 as a private exercise for him and his word game-loving partner. It eventually became a staple of their family WhatsApp messaging, and that’s when Wardle started to suspect he might have something special enough to merit a wider release.
The very sweet origin story is thoroughly detailed in this great NYT profile of Wardle and his latest creation. You’re better off reading that for the full scoop, but as far as basics go it’s enough to know that Wordle was conceived by a caring person who wanted to keep his partner entertained during the quiet, trying times of our ongoing global pandemic.
Tips and tricks for Wordle
My first big tip is to not make the mistake I did: That pop-up window you see the first time you visit the site is a fixed tutorial, not a clue for the day’s puzzle! It’s clearer on a PC display than it was on the smartphone browser I was using at the time, so that’s probably not a common mistake. But I made it, and that means you might, as well.
In the realm of more helpful tips: It’s not clear until you’ve played a few times, but you can have words that use the same letter in multiple spots. So if the day’s word was “APPLE” and your first guess was “PAPER,” the first “P” would get a yellow box for being the right letter in the wrong spot and the second “P” would get a green box for being correctly picked AND placed.
You can also click the gear icon at the top of the Wordle website to tweak a few things. There’s a Dark Theme option for those who prefer something other than the eye-searing intensity of a mostly-white screen. A “Hard Mode” switch requires all guesses after the first one to account for revealed hints. (So turning back to our previous “APPLE” example, every guess after “PAPER” would have to use “A,” “E,” and two letters “P,” with one of the always plugged into the third box.) Finally, there’s a “Color Blind Mode” which uses high contrast colors for those who need or prefer it.
Some people have gotten really into analyzing Wordle‘s inner mechanics and the way it gets us playing with (English) language. Others have taken more of a lesson from Wardle’s initially DIY vibe with the game and embraced that for their own lives.
Really though, there’s no “wrong” way to play. The beauty of Wordle is its simplicity. It won’t even let you get away with plugging a nonsense lineup of letters in lieu of an actual word; every guess you make is checked against Wordle‘s own dictionary. If your guess isn’t a real word, the game doesn’t allow you to push it through.
Just give it a shot and see for yourself. Once you’ve caught the bug, it’s hard to keep yourself from coming back for more.
Reporting by Caitlin Welsh contributed to this article.