If you haven’t heard of Wordle, you probably aren’t on twitter. In the past few weeks, the game has taken that particular social media platform by storm, and the New York Times recently announced that it would be purchasing Wordle for somewhere in the “low” seven figures to add to their collection of word games. The game, they said, would “initially” remain free.
So what is Wordle? It’s a guessing game wherein you have six chances to guess that day’s five-letter target word. With each guess, you’re informed which letters in your guess were incorrect (marked by black squares), correct but in the wrong position (yellow squares), or correct and in the right position, matching the target word (green squares). Baked into Wordle’s design is the fact that there’s only one word each day, which increases the sense of competition between players. (How may guesses did it take you today?)
Part of its popularity on twitter comes from a function that lets you report your result for the day as a grouping of colored boxes without spoiling the result. This is an elegant and fun solution, but not terribly accessible for those who use screenreaders.
It shouldn’t be surprising that, given Wordle’s popularity, a myriad of variations of this fairly simple game have cropped up, and as someone who studies the ways that art propagates through communities, my favorite thing has been seeing the creativity of all these variations, coming from all over the internet.
There’s an important lesson about storytelling we can take from these variations, which is that cultural art objects like Wordle (yes, games are art objects) never really die, but spread and morph as they move through communities. The same is true of stories, whether we’re talking about major YA franchises spawning unending reams of fan-fiction or a relatively unknown short story suddenly turning into a motion picture. Hollywood’s obsession over IP (which, yes, is very noticeable in this day and age, but also has a long precedence back to Hollywood’s beginning) is a reflection of this: we, audiences, like seeing the things we love resurface in new and surprising ways. It makes them, and us, feel alive.
Wordle is very much alive. Recently I wrote a twitter thread collecting some of my favorite variations, and now I’d like to present them to you here.
- First up is the most obvious hack for someone bitten by the Wordle bug, Wordle Unlimited, which lets you play as many games per day as you want. (May be dangerous for some.)
- Similar in nature, but with a key twist, hello wordl (a cute little programming joke there) both lets you play as many times a day as you’d like AND lets you adjust the length of the word you’re trying to guess, from 4 to 11 letters. (Queerdle, my favorite of the themed Wordles I’ve come across, also plays with letter count.)
- One of my favorites, Custom Wordle lets you pick a target word to share with your friends. While you have to pick a language to make guesses in, the target “word” can be any combination of letters. This can lead to some potentially devious options (including friends not knowing how to spell a target word). I’ve been (slowly) learning Romanian, and my partner picked a word I already know (in Romanian) that I then had to guess by narrowing letter choices down through English guesses. Very fun.
- If you want to try to guess one of my favorite (English) words through Custom Wordle, here you go. As you’ll soon discover, part of the challenge of an 11-letter word is simply thinking of other 11-letter words to make guesses with.
- My other favorite Wordle variation is Dordle, aka double Wordle. You have to guess two different words at the same time. It’s tricky to explain in a single tweet, but seriously, just check it out yourself.
- Moving in an increasingly silly direction, Absurdle (“adversarial” Wordle) changes its target word with every guess while adhering to letters you’ve already gotten correct or eliminated. I don’t find it as fun as the other variants above, but it still highlights fan creativity.
- And now for our silliest option, which parodies the whole Wordle-guessing-game craze, Letterle. (It even breaks the naming convention in a frustrating manner. Just try saying it out loud!) But don’t worry, you only have to guess a single letter with this one.
- And then of course there’s always the option to just play with friends and emojis. Pick a word, and each time your friend guesses you send back a collection of colored emojis to indicate where they stand. (Why not also play a head-to-head with friends on a thread? First person to guess right wins, but each guess adds to the information available to all.)
- Lastly, I’d like to point out Wordle Accessibility, which generates screenreader-friendly text based off your game results. Another very cool fan-built tool, meant to increase the inclusiveness of those who want to enjoy the game’s community.
- There are also some very fun themed Wordles, like Lewdle and Queerdle, which definitely deserve your attention. Queerdle, as I mentioned above, also plays with the number of letters in your target word.
While the idea of a Wordle movie seems inevitable, given Hollywood’s penchant for the popular, I’d encourage you instead to look at the fringes of the community, where designers have made new, sometimes better, platforms to play on. And as storytellers, we can learn a lot from attending to the ways this popular artifact has spread across social media.
With the New York Times’ purchase of Wordle, who knows what will happen to this free little gem bringing a little connection to so many who are still isolated? While the Wordle name may someday be litigious, my only hope is that these variants will continue to pop up and flourish.
If you know of any other good Wordle variations, let me know in the comments!
(And yes, this post was at least partly an excuse for me to talk about a game I’ve spent far too much time playing lately.)