Wordling away the winter

Wince, crimp, prick: three of the words I have managed to guess in fewer than the six tries players get with Wordle, the latest game craze to hit the internet.

According to legend (aka The New York Times), Brooklyn software engineer Josh Wardle created the game for his partner, who loves word games. They enjoyed it so much that they shared it with his family’s WhatsApp group. They loved it, so he decided to release it to the world. On November 1, 2021, 90 people played. On January 2, 300,000 played. By January 21, according to Wardle, 2.5 million people were playing.

There’s a lot to like about this game. It’s free. You don’t need an app to play. No advertising pops up on the screen while you are playing. You don’t get notifications reminding you to play. There is just one word a day, so it can’t take over your life. To do well requires just the right blend of luck and skill.

As Wardle says of his game:

“I think people kind of appreciate that there’s this thing online that’s just fun. It’s not trying to do anything shady with your data or your eyeballs. It’s just a game that’s fun.”

Breaking the code

For those not yet familiar with Wordle, it’s similar to the 1970s hit Mastermind, which was a kind of code breaking game. Mastermind has now been reinvented as Codebreaker, a slightly more complicated version of the original. Both are games for two people that are played on a board. One player creates a hidden code by arranging the pegs in a pattern and the other must try to guess it by a process involving both luck and skill.

After playing Wordle for a week, I was so obsessed with it that I bought Codebreaker. My daughter found our very old family Mastermind game and, last weekend, she, her partner, my partner and I had a lot of fun playing both games. Those games are well suited to people less keen on letters and words and who think visually. Since they are two-person games, they are more social than the solitary Wordle. And, unlike Wordle, you can play as many games as you want in a row.

The socialiability of games

I grew up playing games of all kinds: card games like Hearts, Cribbage, Auction 45; board games like Clue, Monopoly and Sorry. We played board and card games with our kids as they were growing up. My daughter and her partner have the largest collection of board games I have ever seen and, pre-pandemic, we often settled in at their place for an evening of intense game playing; none of it involving a screen of any kind.

My partner and I never travel without taking a few board games, a deck of cards and a cribbage scoreboard along with us and, fortunately for us, most of our friends also enjoy game playing.

My only rule about playing games is that they have to allow for conversation. I’m happy to concentrate on a game to a point, but it has to be a social experience. That’s one of the reasons I have never taken to bridge or chess.

I am hooked

Despite my fondness for the social aspect of game playing, I have become hooked on Wordle; a completely solitary game. After just a few days of playing, I had established a routine. Before I make my smoothie or my partner’s chai in the morning, I head to my desk and open up the Wordle for the day. I have a pad of paper and pen beside me so I can jot down letters in different arrangements. And off I go – starting with a word containing at least two vowels and some common consonants, and guessing and calculating from there. Once I get the word right (so far, I have been successful every day, taking anywhere from three to six tries), I can move on with my day.

While the game itself may be a one-person activity, there’s lots of socializing to be done around it. My closest friends and my daughter all play, and we text one another with our progress; never giving away anything lest the others have not yet finished that day’s word. All my five siblings are now playing and, in our sib text group, we have some not so minor competition going (my youngest brother, having got a recent word in two tries – sheer luck as far as I am concerned – declared modestly “I am king”) to see who finishes first and with the fewest guesses.

Not surprisingly, Wordle has led to spinoffs; Lewdle, offering adult-only word content, Absurdle, so complicated that I can’t even figure it out, Sweardle – I  think you can guess what those words are — and no doubt more.

I am not interested in any of those. Wordle is gentle. I could play it with my 10-year-old grandson by my side. It’s hard enough to make me feel sort of smart without being devious or tricky. Once it’s done, it’s done, I can’t go hunting for more. (Well, actually I can, because there is a website of old Wordle words for those who just have to keep playing.)

Just 13:17:02 until tomorrow’s word!

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