Five letters, six attempts and only one puzzle to solve per day: the formula “Wordle” could not be simpler, but in a matter of weeks the online puzzle had millions of people guessing around the world.
“It grabs you,” Daily player Susan Drubin told AFP of the code-breaking word challenge – perhaps best described as a cross between the retro board game “Mastermind” and daily crossword puzzles. .
“The nice thing about it is that it only takes a few minutes, usually, and it’s a really nice little distraction,” said the 65-year-old from suburban Washington.
The rise of the puzzle has been meteoric: according to the New York Times, 90 people played on November 1. Two months later, on January 2, more than 300,000 took up the challenge. The Guardian put the number of daily players last weekend at two million, and on the rise …
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Wordle’s rules are disarmingly simple: find the word of the day in six tries or less. Each guess must be a valid five-letter word: letters in the correct space turn green, while letters that are part of the answer but in the wrong place turn yellow.
Only one word is offered per day, and it is the same for everyone. Can’t solve today’s puzzle? You will just have to wait until tomorrow for the next one.
While the game itself is accessible on a website rather than an app, players can generate a shareable widget, with six lines of colored squares indicating the number of tries needed to solve the puzzle – without revealing the answer. of the day, of course.
After a few weeks, Drubin – like legions of gamers – began sharing his results on social media under the hashtag #Wordle.
And so, a viral phenomenon was born.
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– ‘Just fun’ –
Part of what makes Wordle special is that it costs nothing to play – and is, more unusual, ad-free.
Its designer Josh Wardle, a software engineer based in Brooklyn but originally from Wales, decided not to monetize the game.
“I think people kinda appreciate that there’s this stuff online that’s just fun,” Wardle told The New York Times on Monday. “It’s not trying to do anything fishy with your data or your eyeballs.”
While the game’s website – “powerlanguage.co.uk/wordle” – is free of ads or pop-ups, it didn’t take long for enterprising copiers to try and emulate the concept of the game, devising App Store clones to buy. which have since been withdrawn.
The only app left standing is an unrelated game called “Wordle!” with an exclamation mark, created by a teenager five years ago.
Its developer Steven Cravatta, now 24, said he initially had “no idea what was going on” when his app started recording more than 40,000 daily downloads.
“I had no idea it was a craze,” Cavotta told The Wall Street Journal.
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– The right to brag –
For Mikael Jakobsson, research coordinator for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Game Lab, Wordle falls into the “gap filler” category, a game “that you can pull out when you’re waiting for a friend or… for the bus”.
He attributes his success in part to the ease of sharing the results with friends, whether through social media or word of mouth.
When you solve the puzzle, “You feel very proud of yourself … You have that share button right there. So you can brag about it a bit, which we tend to like to do.”
Rachel Kowert, psychologist specializing in video games, also points to the theory of social comparison, according to which everyone wants to evaluate themselves in relation to others.
The temptation is such that ironic debates have popped up online about muting friends who tweet their “lowly-bragging” scores.
Another key part of the game’s appeal, Kowert says, is that being “limited to one per day makes you feel like you are psychologically short.”
“You don’t overdo it in a session, and it makes you want to come back to keep playing day in and day out,” she said.
Wordle is already in the process of being adapted into other languages, including French, having quickly taken over the English-speaking world – although, spoiler alert, the American spelling of the Wednesday word has sparked howls of protests from online gamers from the British compatriots of its creator.