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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Schafer

What is Wordle and how has it become so popular?

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

You might’ve heard of this browser game that has been getting just a tiny bit popular. If you’ve noticed your social media feeds littered with little black, yellow, and green boxes, you’re not alone.

This is Wordle, a free online word puzzle game developed by Josh Wardle, previously known for creating The Button for Reddit back in 2015.

The game itself is exceedingly simple: guess a five-letter word using hints given by your guesses. As you start typing in your guesses, letters will be highlighted yellow if they’re in the puzzle, green if they’re in the correct spot, black if it’s not in there at all. It is this simplicity that has caused the game to become such a powerhouse, quickly becoming part of many’s daily routines.

“I like it because it makes me feel stupid at the beginning, and then I get it and I feel like a genius,” Senior Reagan Heppener jokingly stated.

The browser game was initially published all the way back in October, but only recently started gaining popularity after the share feature was implemented, flooding Twitter and Facebook feeds with the little blocks that we see everywhere now.

In an interview from Slate’s podcast, Spectacular Vernacular, Wardle divulged on the history of Wordle’s creation.

“The goal with Wordle actually was to create a word game for my partner to play. She and I got really into the New York Times crossword, and she plays a lot of Spelling Bee as well.” Wardle revealed. “Wordle’s a bit simpler, more my speed.”

A big contributor to Wordle’s success that Wardle explored is the endless playability locked behind a timer.

“As soon as you finish one puzzle, you could move on to the next one, which Wordle doesn’t do. You can only play Wordle once a day and it’s the same word for everyone,” Wardle reiterated.

That might just be the secret behind the game's prolonged success. What Wordle has over other games in its genre is its competitive aspect, which has been fueled by the addition of the share feature.

The daily wordles have trended consistently almost every day since the start of the new year, and that doesn’t seem to be changing soon as its player base continues to grow. Very few games in its genre have been able to integrate social media influence, as well as Wordle, has and it’s fair to assume that many other browser games may follow suit after seeing this kind of success.

New York Times purchases Wordle

The New York Times has purchased Wordle as announced by creator Josh Wardle and the company on Monday. Wordle will soon join the papers growing catalog of word games, which they are placing a heavier emphasis on in order to increase subscriptions to 10 million by 2025.

"On the flip side, I'd be lying if I said (the game's growing success) hasn't been a little overwhelming," Wardle said in a statement posted to his Twitter. "Given this, I am incredibly pleased to announce that I've reached an agreement with The New York Times for them to take over running Worlde going forward."

There are currently conflicting reports regarding the game retaining its free-to-play model. The statement put out by Wardle claims that "when the game moves to the NYT site, it will be free to play for everyone..." but an article written by the Times' Marc Tracy states that "the game would initially remain free to new and existing players."

Many players of the popular word game have expressed concern regarding a potential paywall being placed on the game. The sale has in general garnered a very negative response.

"The Times remains focused on becoming the essential subscription for every English-speaking person seeking to understand and engage with the world," a statement put out by the company states. "New York Times Games are a key part of that strategy."


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