My favorite gaming discovery from the end of 2021 is probably Wordle—even though I had to decipher a cryptic social media puzzle to figure out what this popular new game actually was.
As 2021 came to a close and I bundled up beneath blankets due to an apparent omicron infection, I sought out simple entertainment that I could share with friends. Because of my fatigue and unease, breaking down plot threads in TV series like The Book of Boba Fett or Succession felt like too much.
An outburst of green, yellow, and gray squares on friends’ daily feeds got what little attention I could spare. What were these patterns? Why were fewer rows of boxes apparently better? And how come my favorite smart people were obsessed with it?
I can name that Wordle in three guesses
The game in question, Wordle, is a relatively basic word-guessing affair. Every day, its site refreshes with a single five-letter word, and players get six chances to guess it.
Type five letters into the blank guessing box to start, then hit “enter,” and the grid will respond with a Wheel of Fortune-like flip of each letter’s background. A green box means you guessed the correct letter and the correct spot in the final five-letter word. Yellow means the letter is correct, but the placement is wrong. And gray means that letter isn’t in the word at all. Now, try again.
This is where the game’s first subtle genius emerges. Wordle shows you an on-screen keyboard, whether you’re playing on a desktop or mobile browser. With your first five letters entered, Wordle‘s keyboard lights up in kind, graying out wrong letters while adding green and yellow boxes to the ones you’ll want to keep. After two guesses, you’ll likely disqualify a few key letters, particularly vowels, and the keyboard’s visual alignment really helps with follow-up guesses.
There’s nothing else on Wordle‘s site. No ads, no memberships—not even a way to sign in or access older puzzles. Instead, its cookies keep track of your daily progress, particularly how many guesses it took you to solve each day’s puzzle. If you’ve been good at naming that Wordle in three guesses, the site will tell you so with a handy chart of your lifetime progress in a format that’s easy to share with other Wordle junkies.
Hip to be (green) square
This is how I saw the game before I ever played it: as a grid of green, yellow, and gray square emojis. As it turns out, hand-coding a letter-less Wordle grid is a nifty, spoiler-free way to showcase your path to a puzzle’s conclusion. Did you get a freakishly good first try? Did you get stuck on the second letter until a tenuous sixth guess?
Wordle’s simple defaults help even the most fatigued brains feel a bit smarter.
Wordle‘s clean design and simple color palette translate well to this emoji-fied interpretation in a way that’s easy to pass to players of any age. (The site didn’t launch with this unique solution-sharing feature but was later updated with an easy way to copy and paste a perfect Wordle-moji grid of your results.) And the game is arguably a lot less intimidating to parse and jump into than The New York Times’ popular Spelling Bee game—which originally required downloading an iOS-exclusive app, thus limiting its shareable potential compared to Wordle‘s open, uncluttered, free-as-in-beer website. The NYT has since launched a free, limited web version of Spelling Bee.