Wordle: like winning a tiny lottery

Online word game sensation offers a brief respite from the world. For now.

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Wordle is a simple word game that has been embraced by millions as an oasis of calm in our plague-pelted world.

Wordle is a simple word game that has been embraced by millions as an oasis of calm in our plague-pelted world.

Screenshot from Wordle website

Maybe carjacking. The mayor said something judgy and tone-deaf, again. A reader phoned, Monday, offering a photo of his friend, killed for his Mercedes in the South Loop. That never happened before. “I’m sorry for your loss,” I said, flustered at how blase he was. I passed the photo on to the city desk.

Maybe expressway shootings. My kid drives the Dan Ryan to work every day, and at each bulletin of the latest shooting, I check the age of the victim, if unnamed, to reassure myself that it isn’t him. Is that too personal to put in the paper? Probably.

Or maybe Wordle. Yes, definitely Wordle. In a world gone completely bonkers, between our endless pandemic and World War III about to break out in the Ukraine, Wordle is a balm. With the news an endless grating atonal symphony performed by an orchestra of car alarms, train horns and fingernails raked across chalkboards, Wordle provides five minutes of calm, quiet, focus, and the expectation of success.

Opinion bug


Wordle is a word game, if you’re one of the few who haven’t played yet.

Created last year by Welsh software engineer Josh Wardle, Wordle exploded in December when he fiddled with the algorithm so players could share their scores. Like any good virus, Wordle is highly contagious.

“Guess the WORDLE in 6 tries,” the instructions explain. “Each guess must be a valid 5 letter word. Hit the enter button to submit. After each guess, the color of the tiles will change...”

The game is simplicity itself. A grid with 30 square boxes, five across, six down. Underneath, a QWERTY keyboard. Nothing else. No advertisements, yet. My wife always starts with “ADIEU” as her first guess, because of the four vowels. If the word you guess contains a letter in today’s mystery word, that letter comes up green if in the right place, yellow if right but in a different position. And letters that aren’t in today’s word at all are gray.

Let’s start with ... “ANGST” — that seems fitting. Click “ENTER.” Each letter flips over to reveal how well I did. The “A” comes up ... well, it really isn’t yellow, more a brownish goldenrod. The other four, gray.

So I’ve got one letter in any place but the one I guessed. Not a good start. Here strategy enters in. You could enter a word with entirely different letters. Or take that errant “A” and try to find its home. I do that.

Move the “A” over and build a new word, using four previously unguessed letters: “PARCH.” Enter that. Now the “A” and the “R” are goldenrod/brown/yellow. Two letters, both in the wrong place.

Flip the A and the R around, with ... BRAVE. Now the R, A and E are green.

This should be easy. One reason Wordle is so popular is that you usually solve it. Not too many letters would go before “RA.” An “F” works, and that would demand the M, which I also haven’t used. “FRAME.”

Got it!

”Splendid,” Wordle tells me. Another reason for its popularity. Nothing else I do today, including write this column, will draw a “Splendid,” and even though it’s spat out by an algorithm, well, that’s our future, isn’t it? Lost in the Metaverse, sipping a cherry Coke with Scarlett Johansson as the world outside crumbles. “You’re splendid,” she coos.

A sign of Wordle’s popularity is all the spin-offs that have sprung up, like Jewdle, using words related to Judaism, and Lewdle, using dirty words.

A sign of Wordle’s popularity is all the spin-offs that have sprung up, like Jewdle, using words related to Judaism, and Lewdle, using dirty words.


After the game, a clock starts counting down the hours, minutes and seconds until the next game posts. The mystery word is the same for all players on any given day, which increases the sense of community as they post their results and discuss that day’s challenge.

“I love that it’s only one word a day! It allows me to have a bit of fun and then move on, not get stuck in an endless loop of game play like so many apps/games allow,” said Megan Eskew, when I asked my Facebook hive to weigh in on Wordle. “I can only hope it doesn’t get stuck behind an NYT paywall.”

The dark cloud on the horizon. The New York Times, assembling an arsenal of cute little puzzles to hook readers fleeing the news like that head-clutching tortured soul in Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” bought Wordle last month for several million dollars.

So Wordle might be soon ruined, like everything else. Until then, it offers something in short supply: a feeling of success.

“I’ve done that!” Mary Jane Tala exuded on my Facebook page Jan. 23. “Felt like I won a tiny lottery.”

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