The Rise and Fall of Wordle
Jonathan Kho '23 and Maren Knutson '22
Is it Scrabble? Is it Mastermind? No, it’s Wordle! Played in schools, offices, and shared by millions online, Wordle is one of the most popular games in the world, created by Josh Wardle for his wife in 2013 and released to the public in October 2021. However, Wordle started to gain popularity in December 2021 when Wordle created a feature for players to share their results through the app. Once Wordle exploded in January with #wordle trending on Twitter nearly every day, it was bought by the New York Times in January 2022 for an undisclosed amount somewhere in the millions.
However, some Wordle words have been known to frustrate, and even anger people. Some words, such as oxide (Wordle #306), query (Wordle #205), and cynic (Wordle #240) have drawn outrage from users, claiming the words were too difficult. Although, when Wordle first created the list for the game, it contained every five-letter word in the English language (over 12,000). Many of these words are unknown to the general public, so he tasked his wife with narrowing down the words to a more noticeable list. Even with the oft-difficult words, people continue to play to challenge their minds and test their knowledge. However, with these difficult words, many would think that they could benefit from Wordle by expanding their vocabulary. Unfortunately, this is not the case as many students and teachers claim that the words they guess do not increase their vocabulary. Specifically, Dr. Klein explains, “No, I know most of the five letter words in English.”
However, despite the lack of expansion in their vocabulary, people continue to play it around the world everyday.
To spread the fun of Wordle, students and teachers have shared the game with their friends, classmates, and students. Nellie Hartell (‘22) explains, “I don’t know who introduced me to Wordle, probably someone from school.”
Teachers have also heard and shared Wordle with friends as well. One of our teachers from the math department, Mr. Cortez explains, “I think that I found out about it from a friend. Oh, before the New York Times bought it.” Because of Mr. Cortez’s friend, he has had the pleasure of sharing this game with other teachers in our school community.
One of these teachers is Dr. Klein, who specifically is known for playing Wordle with her students. She explains, “I do get my students to play Wordle, and I also play Absurdle, which is more challenging because the algorithm is actually playing against you. You feel great if you can crack Absurdle in 6 to 8 tries."
However, among the teachers, many of them have played Wordle and told other teachers about this new innovative game. Although Wordle has spread throughout the whole nation as one of the most popular word games, not many play Wordle consistently. When asked in a survey if students play this game over the weekends, many have said “When I remember to.” Additionally, of the students interviewed, many of them said they only play Wordle during the school week. Many have explained that they have been playing Wordle less recently compared to the Wordle’s peak season.
Will Toman (‘23) explains, “I used to play it a lot, like every day when it was popular, but I haven’t played it since. I think I actually played it yesterday, but it’s every couple of weeks now.”
Additionally, Nellie Hartell similarly says, “I used to play Wordle all the time in its peak popularity, I even tried to do the Wordle archives where me and Ellie Hanley(‘22) did 100 of them, then over winter break I stopped.” This data proves that the downfall of Wordle could be arriving and, like any other trend, another game could replace Wordle’s position as the most popular word game today.
Wordle’s format is similar to games such as Mastermind, where one player creates a sequence of colored pegs and another has to guess what the sequence is. In Wordle, a player has six tries to guess a five-letter word, and is given hints through different colored squares: green for correct letter and in the correct spot, yellow for correct letter but in the wrong spot, and gray for wrong letter and in the wrong spot. The game can only be played once a day on any device, which is part of the allure for many players. With many games it is easy to overplay and become bored. However with Wordle, the word changes every day, making people want to come back repeatedly and see if they can conquer the next day’s word.
In support of this claim, besides the original model, there are many other games created with similar styles to the original. According to our survey, 60/94 of the respondents said they played other types of Wordle besides the classic. Seventeen of those respondents said they play Worldle, a geography version where players have to guess a country. Five said they played Taylordle, where people have to guess 8 letter words relating to popular artist Taylor Swift. Ten said they played Heardle, where people listen to clips of songs and try to guess which song it is. There are also many knockoff versions of Wordle where people can play multiple games on the same day. With the growing popularity of these other similar games, Wordle could be reaching its downfall.
Despite Wordle losing much popularity, this game brought many people together through only five letters. While this is a simple game, it gives everyone a chance to challenge themselves and others on any device they have.
Mr. Cortez explains the appeal saying, “I think that really successful puzzles are the ones that are just simple. I mean, this doesn't have a lot of rules. Five letter word guessing.” Josh Wardle’s creation of the accessibility, the simplicity, and the challenge of this game ultimately is what makes Wordle the most popular game in the world.