Wordle: A Viral Sensation

Photo by Cate Latimer

Photo by Cate Latimer

Cate Latimer (she/her), Staff Writer

It’s not the New York Times crossword. It’s not Wordscapes. It’s a word game uniquely its own—it’s Wordle. 

In recent months, Wordle, a five letter word guessing game, has taken the world by storm. As of now, approximately 2 million people are playing the game each day, and the internet has become saturated with strategies for the quickest ways to win. 

Wordle wasn’t always as popular as it is now, but it’s humble beginnings are central to its charm. The game was first created in 2013 by Josh Wardle, as a game for him and his partner to play, and it only recently became available to the rest of the world in October 2021.

The goal of the game is to guess a five letter word in six tries or less. You start out by guessing one word at a time. Green letters mean that not only is the letter in the word, but it is also in the correct placement. Yellow letters signify that the letter is in the word but not in the correct place, and gray letters mean that the letter you guessed is not in the word at all. 

Wordle started with 90 players on November 1st, eventually expanding to the approximately 3 million players it has today. 

The key to Wordle’s success? Three elements that make playing the game addictive: the ability to play only once per day, the fact that everyone is working towards the same correct word, and the inherent shareability of the game itself. 

Because you can only play once a day, Wordle keeps its players coming back wanting more. It isn’t a game you can play over and over—once you figure out the correct word, you’re done for the day. “I like it because it’s fun but not time consuming. It helps me get my brain active,” said Ida B. Wells-Barnett Junior, Jacob Glass. 

Wordle uses this addictive characteristic to harness a community unlike any other game. With everyone working towards the same goal, it brings together a group of players who can bond over those who figured out the word and those who didn’t. 

Everyone having the same word also makes Wordle irresistibly shareable, something encouraged by the game’s easy “share” feature. When you choose to share your results, Wordle populates them into emojis that show the number of tries it took you to guess the correct word and colored boxes representing the colors of the letters you guessed (green, yellow, or gray). By doing it this way, you can share your results without spoiling the correct word for anyone else. 

The “share” feature was what fostered the community around Wordle on Twitter. Every day, users would share their results while others compared their own paths to find the answer. 

There is also a small, satisfactory joy that is inherent in the game’s structure: the game’s ease of play. Many tend to start their day with a Wordle game, making the game a part of their routine. Abby Griffin, an English teacher at IBW said she plays Wordle every day. Her favorite part? “Comparing my scores with other people,” said Griffin. 

The fun of Wordle is amplified because people don’t often lose. The majority of the time, everyone finds the correct word by the end of the six tries. “It’s a small daily win that is predictable and rarely overwhelming,” Sam Sanders wrote in a Tweet. For those who have begun to incorporate Wordle into their daily routines, this is exactly what people want to start their day with—a win. 

By late November, Wordle had become a worldwide hit, so the announcement that the game had been acquired by the New York Times in January came as no surprise. Still, Wordle players weren’t happy. “I don’t love it,” said Griffin, “I just know they’re going to capitalize on it.” Jacob Glass agreed, saying he was worried that Wordle becoming a paid game would “take away the fun and accessibility of it.”

Nevertheless, the Wordle community is still undeniably strong. Countless TikToks and YouTube videos explore the best strategies for the game, from starting with a funny word first, to algorithms determining the best words to guess to help you get the answer the quickest. “I always start with sauce,” Griffin said, “I feel like I get a lot of vowels [that way].” 

There is no telling how long Wordle will remain in our lives, but it has made an impact in the hearts of many with its charming simplicity. There is no app, no endless playing, and no separation between the goals of players. It’s just a web browser with colorful squares that is bringing our strained communities a little bit closer together. What could be more fun than that?