As a person who makes puzzles on the internet, likes math and linguistics, and has loved word games as long as I can remember, the Wordle craze could not have been more perfectly targeted to me. I have so many Wordle thoughts.
In this post, I'll talk about my Wordle story, and how I solved seven Wordles in 36 seconds, which I think is a record! (There's video of it!) I'll also talk about Obscurdle, my favorite Wordle spinoff, and link to an answer key I made for it. Then, I'll do a rundown of every Wordle variant I can think of, with my thoughts on that variant. And there are some bonus custom Wordles by me at the end.
Let's do this!
I played my first Wordle on December 25, five days before Cracking the Cryptic covered it and a week before the New York Times article. I first heard about it on a puzzle Discord, so it is, in fact, a direct result of me being a person who makes puzzles on the internet, but it quickly felt like it was everywhere.
If you're curious, I got my first word in five guesses, but I didn't yet know about the share feature. It actually took me a shockingly long time to realize that the way you got the colored squares was to literally hit the "share" button and then paste them.
My first starting word was STAIN, which I didn't put much thought into, but I quickly converted to AROSE (as a result of seeing this, I think). In the early days, I was basically self-enforcing "Hard Mode," only guessing things that were possible words.
In the early days, I was basically self-enforcing "Hard Mode," only guessing things that were possible words.
By the way, Hard Mode is such a weird name. It's true that, strictly speaking, it makes the game harder, but the name just feels awkward to me. I think what bugs me about it is that if you're a bot picking your moves randomly, then playing on Hard Mode would cause you to guess it more easily. Anyway.
And I was doing AROSE + Hard Mode until...
People were posting times in the hundreds, but my first time was a 428. As I wrote at the time, "I think I was trying to play good Wordle instead of fast Wordle." But I kept trying, and switched from my phone to my computer (a critical time saver). "I now feel extremely competitive," I said. I got 168.36, then 124.07. The time to beat was arctan's 127.16, so I held the crown at that point! However, arctan then got a 119.86, quickly reclaiming it.
Then, though, Livienna mentioned that she would always start with DRAPE, LOUSY, and NIGHT, at which point it's generally pretty easy to guess the word. (Obviously many people were using a variant of this strategy, but I hadn't really considered it until then. arctan was using HATES/MINOR/BL[A/O]CK/PUDGY, bailing early if necessary.)
Having a strategy where I type in the first few words really improved my times. Using this strategy, I got 104.61, which I was very excited about! I did mostly attribute it to luck, though.
It also adds 3 seconds for every incorrect guess, which I didn't initially realize.
I was going to stop trying, but then arctan pondered who would be first to get a sub-100 time, and so I became very competitive and kept playing. I got a 101.30. Then I officially committed to not playing any more speed Wordle that day, because it was consuming too much mental energy.
Three days later, though, notorious crossword speedsolver Paolo Pasco came in with an absurd time of 96.28.
I concluded that, to beat this time, because of the 3-second penalty, auto-guessing three words might not be feasible anymore. 3 times 3 times 7 is 63, leaving only 33 seconds (under 5 per Wordle) for actual thinking — and that's assuming you can always get it on the fourth try. I was initially thinking of doing a two-word set (I was going back and forth between AROSE/TUNIC and ARISE/COUNT) and then improvving from there, but that proved difficult.
I ultimately wrote a Python program to score initial guesses by how much information they give you. I compared sets of initial guesses to each word in my word list, deciding to give each "green" 4 points and each "yellow" 1 point. This isn't quite right, since yellows are more valuable compared to greens once you already have some information, but it's too late now. Anyway, I generated a list of the ten best starting words according to this metric, and tried each of them paired with every other word. The winning duo was SLATE/CRONY, and the best third word to add was BUILD.
Yes, BUILD does duplicate an L in SLATE. But I specifically reran the program on, for example, HEATS/CRONY/BUILD, and it did actually lose to SLATE/CRONY/BUILD.
Regardless, my new strategy was clear: guess SLATE and CRONY. Then, if I've got a lot of greens and yellows, try to guess the word. Otherwise, quickly go for BUILD and take it from there.
While this was happening, calmdowntime, by the way, beat me to beating Paolo by getting 95.78.
At this point, though, I decided to record all of my attempts. If and when I was finally able to beat this score, I would have video proof. And then:
It took a lot of attempts, a lot of luck, but when I finally beat the record, it was with an 89.77. Suffice to say that I was extremely excited. I know of no faster time!
If someone does want to beat this time, though, it is beatable! For example, in my third Wordle, I accidentally make a guess that's impossible, and not having guessed that would've saved me one of those three-second penalties.
SLATE/CRONY+BUILD is also my current strategy for regular Wordle.
(And I know it's not optimal — there's a 3Blue1Brown video concluding that CRANE is the starting word, and a follow-up saying that actually it's CRATE or TRACE — but my bad computer program came up with SLATE/CRONY+BUILD, so I like using that. Also, I don't think actual starting words matter too much, just the amount you use before you start actually guessing. And for that, I'm pretty confident in my "two and a half" strategy.)
I don't think actual starting words matter too much, just the amount you use before you start actually guessing. And for that, I'm pretty confident in my "two and a half" strategy.
Now let me talk to you about the best Wordle spinoff!
Well, Obscurdle isn't really a Wordle game. In each of its twelve levels, you guess five letter words, whose letters will show up green, yellow, and black in some pattern, but that's where the Wordle similarity ends. See, in every level, the colors mean something different, and your job is to deduce what the colors mean in every level.
The design for this game is really top-notch; every level was a genuine aha moment for me, and they all forced me to think about the process of guessing words in a new way. I would highly, highly recommend Obscurdle.
By the way, I made an Obscurdle answer key for anyone who's stuck! Simply go to tinyurl.com/obscurdleanswers (highlight to reveal), or tinyurl.com/obscurdleanswers-2 (scroll to reveal). Also note that, while the levels do generally increase in difficulty, the last three levels are generally considered easier than the second-to-last three.
This ends the portion of the post where I have unique contributions to make. Now, I'm just going to blitz through all the other Wordle variants I can think of, in no particular order, with my thoughts on them.
When it was still 2021, I wanted to play Wordle more than once a day, so I coded up a quick Python program to do just that. The game is a simple concept (Wikipedia says it's "nearly identical to the 1955 pen-and-paper game Jotto and the US television game show Lingo"), so it wasn't too difficult to program. Original Wordle, I believe, is also open-source. There are a few sites that do the same thing, like Word Master, and this one which doesn't seem to have a name beyond Wordle; there's also Wordle Archive, which allows playing the regular daily words from the past!
The one I first heard about was hello wordl, which has the benefit of a great name. In addition to infinite wordle, hello wordl allows you to change the length from four letters to eleven letters. More letters makes it theoretically easier, since you get more information per guess, but it's harder to generate candidates — I can't really think of eleven-letter words on command. I think five or six letters is, indeed, the sweet spot of fun.
I can't really think of eleven-letter words on command. I think five or six letters is, indeed, the sweet spot of fun.
Absurdle was the first Wordle spinoff I came across. It's a great concept: basically, it changes the word on you to make you take as long as possible, while still keeping its answer word consistent with your previous guesses. My favorite way to play this is "challenge mode" (which I was doing before it was an official mode) where, instead of minimizing guesses, you're trying to make the ultimate answer word something you decide at the start — say, POWER. For proper Absurdle, I believe the record is four, with EARLY/POINT/CUBIC/FICUS.
First it was Dordle, where you have two Wordles at the same time, but your guesses need to be the same. Then someone made Quordle, where there are four. Then Octordle. Then, and I am not kidding, Sedecordle. I never really got Dordle despite doing a decent number of them, but I actually think the higher ones are more fun: I like guessing words when you already have a ton of guesses. Anyway, some people really like these; I think they're fine.
Wordle with a Targeted Wordlist
There's a broad category of versions of Wordle where, instead of being in the standard English dictionary, guesses must be in a specific category: swear words (Lewdle, Sweardle), queer-themed words (Queerdle), Taylor Swift-themed words (Taylordle), words in Lord of the Rings (Lordle of the Rings), Star Wars-themed words (Star Wordle), etc. I'm not actually a big fan of these. The smaller word lists mean that the actual answer is determined pretty quickly, but because I don't have the list memorized, I feel like I should sit there forever trying to figure it out, or else waste some guesses playing it like normal Wordle. I don't them, though, and they're not as mentally taxing as some of the other variants.
I'm bitter because the first time I played Letterle, I got it right on my first try (with E), but I realized I forgot to share. However, it didn't save, so I had to play again. And this time, the answer was V, and it took me 23 guesses! Anyway, it's a good joke.
Primel is a pretty straightforward concept: Wordle, but with five-digit prime numbers! (You can only guess primes.) I think this has a good balance of simplicity and interesting strategic ramifications. It can feel a bit random, though.
In Mathler and Nerdle, you have to guess mathematical equations or expressions. These are also interesting concepts, though I find them — particularly Nerdle — difficult to wrap my head around, and haven't really been playing them.
In Crosswordle, you have a Wordle grid of letters and have to reverse-engineer the guesses from there, assuming Hard Mode. It's somewhat cerebral as well, but when they're not ridiculously difficult, they can be quite fun to reconstruct — almost Obscurdle-like.
I just feel like I'm not on the wavelength of the game, like I need to think about words totally differently to perform well at all.
Then there's Semantle, which is so hard. If you've never played, your words are scored based on how semantically similar they are to the target word. And it's really hard. I've never actually gotten one, even after a gazillion guesses, and even playing collaboratively. I just feel like I'm not on the wavelength of the game, like I need to think about words totally differently to perform well at all. I admire anyone who can solve this.
Wordle on a Grid (Griddle)
There are various ways to take Wordle to two dimensions: in Crosswordle (separate from the Reverse Wordle one), you literally have to guess the words of a crossword. I've also seen a variety of things referred to as "crosswordles" — here's a mini crossword that simply features today's Wordle word, for example, but this cryptic involves the core Wordle gameplay more tangibly. wooferzfg, also the creator of speedrun wordle, created a Wordle-inspired sudoku, which was featured on Cracking the Cryptic. There's also Squardle, which, like Semantle, just breaks my brain. 'Nuff said.
Diffle is difficult to describe; the word is of a mystery length, and the greens and yellows are with respect to strings of letters instead of individual letters. (The "diff" is actually for "difference," I presume.) It's an interesting concept; I feel like I don't fully understand it, but with a bit more practice I think I could come to like it.
Given that there is a Pokemon named Squirtle, Squirdle is a very natural name for a Wordle spinoff. Unfortunately, I only know the names of five to ten Pokemon, and none of the stats, so I'm not really the target audience. Someone who does know Pokemon might enjoy it!
This one's a cool concept. In Flaggle, you guess a flag of a country or region, and it gives you visual feedback on the colors of that flag. Unfortunately, I do not have all the flags memorized, so I am not very good at this game. Flag nerds will appreciate it.
Worldle is more tenuously a Wordle variant. You have to guess a country (or region — I got messed up one time when it was Hong Kong) based on the shape, and it will tell you how close you are geographically. It still gives feedback using Wordle's classic colored squares, which I think is a bit dodgy, but it's fun.
There's a new game called Fourword where you have to continually change the letters of one four-letter word to get to another. I think it's brand-new! In terms of Wordle-ness, this is in the Obscurdle category of having a visual look heavily inspired by Wordle, but not having similar core gameplay at all. It's fun!
I'm into linguistics, and have a working knowledge of the International Phonetic Alphabet, so I should be part of the target audience for /wɚdəl/. (Actually, the target audience was Gretchen McCulloch, internet linguist extraordinaire, who liked it.) But even though it uses American pronunciations, pronunciations are variable enough that just nailing down the pronunciation for a word I knew was a struggle for me. There's also one based on Australian pronunciation (AusErdle).
It is wholly unsurprising that foreign-language Wordle exists, and of course extremely valuable for non-English speakers! Linked is Wordles of the World, a comprehensive list of 629 Wordle games in 138 languages. I've played a bit of Spanish Wordle; I can get the word, but it feels more like I'm stumbling in the dark, trying to piece together a phonotactically valid word until it tells me it's legit.
One thing I did not realize about searching through this database is that there are a lot of English Wordle games I did not know about. There's Wrdl, where you guess the words vowelless. Morsel, which is in Morse code and which I am scared to attempt. Spellie, which has simpler words and is aimed at young children. Various sites, like Squabble, are geared towards multiplayer. I guess I should've expected that. Wordle is enormously popular, and there are a lot of people in this world who can make cool things. I apologize about any worthwhile Wordle spinoffs that I've left off this post. I'm sure there are many.
Still, the version of Wordle that I find myself playing the most is, well, Wordle.
But When the Dust Settles
Still, the version of Wordle that I find myself playing the most is, well, Wordle. Since there's just one every day, it's quick and easy to just give it a go. It's extremely satisfying. And it still feels like the version with the most momentum behind it.
Take February 22 — today as I write this, yesterday (or long ago) for you all. I opened with my usual SLATE/CRONY, and got this pattern of greens and yellows:
Two possibilities: either the fourth letter is new, or it's an R. If it's new, then the other letters are known, and that first consonant cluster has no good options — the only one that would work is TR, and the second letter can't be R. If the fourth letter an R, then the last letter is either T or N, and mentally experimenting led me to think of the correct answer: THORN.
I just wrote a quick program to check the Collins Scrabble Dictionary, and in fact, it was unique — no other words would've worked.
Wordle has brought me so much joy these last few months, and I'm so happy it's broken the barrier from a niche puzzle thing to something truly famous — it was parodied by SNL, and what bigger sign of fame is there. (Even if their algorithm for yellow squares might've been technically wrong.) It's brought so much joy to me, and I'm happy it's been able to bring joy to the world.
I know I don't use the pseudonym much these days, but it feels wrong to sign this post any other way:
PS: Custom Wordles by Me
But wait! I'd be remiss if I, as a puzzle constructor, didn't at least leave you a few puzzles. The-site-without-a-name-beyond-Wordle allows for the creation of custom vanilla Wordles to pass onto people, so here are six six-letter Wordles by me, designed to be more difficult than average, but hopefully in a satisfying way! (I know I was just talking about how original Wordle, with five-letter words, was the best, but all my cool word ideas were six-letter. Plus, this means y'all can't rely on preplanned starting words as easily.)
PPS: 100th Blog Post