If only every romantic gesture resulted in a seven-figure payday, men might be much more soppy. This week came the heartwarming news that Wordle – the online game created by Welsh software engineer Josh Wardle as a lockdown gift for his puzzle-mad girlfriend – has been bought by the New York Times for millions of dollars.
The free daily game, in which players get six attempts to guess a five-letter word, is deceptively simple and fiendishly addictive. Amid the frequently furious bearpit of online discourse, it’s harmless, old-fashioned fun – and has duly become a bona fide phenomenon. A gaming craze to rival Candy Crush, Tetris or, for those of a certain vintage, Snake on a Nokia brick phone.
Since Wardle released his punningly-named creation to the public three months ago, it has gone viral. The number of players snowballed from 90 in November to 300,000 at New Year, to 2.7 million last weekend. It’s sweeping through the population like the omicron variant, except with consonants instead of coughs.
Have you contracted a case of this highly contagious obsession? Self-diagnose with our nine telltale signs you’ve turned into a Wordle bore…
1. You’ve got a secret starter word
Serious Wordlers begin each game with an intensely thought-through starter word. It likely contains the most common letters (A, S, E, T, O, I, R). You might flip between a few alternatives but definitely no random guesses. You’ve become weirdly protective of your favourite. Telling someone would feel overly intimate and risk losing its magic. I respect that. But tell me later, yeah? (It’s ‘stare’ or ‘raise’, isn’t it?)
2. It’s essential to your daily routine
You might Wordle before work, accompanying your coffee like a croissant. It could be a lunchtime treat, a side order to your sarnie. Or an end-of-the-day ritual, washed down with a glass of wine. Whichever way, it has become part of life’s fabric. You build your day around those lovely little squares. If for some reason you miss it, things just don’t feel right, like that recurring dream where you’ve forgotten to wear trousers.
3. You’re a master tactician
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail – that’s your slightly smug motto. You’ve conducted online research, read newspaper articles, studied letter frequency and honed your playing method. You might have compared notes with friends who take their Wordling equally seriously – but held back your best tricks, obviously. Your strategy embraces elements of linguistic theory and sonority sequencing. Wordle? Nerdle, more like.
4. You overshare
Social media is flooded with people posting their daily Wordle results. Your feed is so full of yellow, green and grey that it’s beginning to resemble an ageing Norwich City fan. Got it in three gos? Great big show off. In five? Phew, good save. Nowadays results alone aren’t enough detail, so you’re posting stats, streaks and distribution, too. Your friends got bored and blocked you long ago.
5. You’re fixated on five-letter words
You’ve begun to notice five-letter words everywhere. Look, there were two in the previous sentence. And you noted one in that sentence, too. Someone really ought to be writing these down. Ooh, ‘these’!
6. You stay up past midnight
Among the beauties of Wordle is its minimalism, with just one puzzle posted per day. Delayed gratification, no bingeing possible. But that website countdown to the next fresh one is too tempting. Post-10pm, your thoughts start turning to it, like an addict awaiting their next fix. Before you know it, you’re logging on at midnight, desperately waiting for the new word to drop.
7. You’ve strayed
One per day doesn’t touch the sides any more. You’ve cheated on Wordle with copycats like Absurdle, Wordie, Word Guess, Wordmaster and PuzzWord. Newspaper crosswords suddenly suck you in. Daytime TV stalwart Countdown is strangely appealing. You’ve rummaged through the games cupboard for Scrabble or Mastermind (the peg-and-board 1970s classic, rather than the black leather chair quiz). How about a game of Hangman? It’s basically Wordle with added capital punishment.