It’s not all that common for a game to become a household word, yet in less than a year, Wordle has become a full-blown craze with 300,000 daily players, including celebrities like Jimmy Fallon, who talks about it on his show. Others like Jennifer Beals and Richard Osman regularly broadcast their obsession on social media. The implication is clear: if you don’t Wordle, you are missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures.

It’s also one of the simplest, which is interesting, since it’s presented by The New York Times, which is famous for having a crossword puzzle so challenging that you basically have to be a member of Mensa to do it. By contrast, Wordle is based on one’s abilities to come up with five-letter words, most of them part of our everyday vernacular (recent wordles include “twice,” “cling,” and “poker.”)

Sounds easy, right? Well, some days yes, others not so much, and some days it’s enough to make you pull your hair our with delicious frustration.

How does it work?

There is a box, similar to a crossword puzzle, with five rows across and six words down. You start by typing in a five-letter word of your choice, and when you hit enter the letters flip over (think slot machine). If they light up green, it means they’re in the word and in the correct place; if they’re yellow, they in the word but belong in another spot. Those that stay black are eliminated altogether. Keep in mind too that there may be double letters (i.e. “happy”), but it won’t tell you that. You then have five more tries to figure out the word, with each try hopefully providing more clues.

When you win within a few tries, Wordle pays you compliments like “splendid!”; when, you get it on the sixth an empathetic “Phew!” pops up on the screen. You can minimize the screen or even close it if you need a break; however, if you try to input any old letters, hoping to trick it into offering clues, the letters shake and a message saying your guess “isn’t on the word list.” Also, many players have found, to their dismay, that proper nouns are not allowed.

Leveraging Tried and True Game Elements

You don’t have to create a NY Times account, which is free, unless you want the site to keep track of your stats – and how can you not? Once you’ve figured out the word, or exhausted your six attempts without success, a little graph pops up the screen showing you how many times you’ve played, the percentage of wins and the number of wins in your “current streak,” and even the number of streaks you’ve had. It also provides you with the “Guess Distribution,” or the number of attempts it has taken you to solve it each time, be it two, three, four, and so on. Of course, it will never be one unless you are a really lucky guesser, which wouldn’t be any fun at all. There’s an option to share your stats with others, and even a link to click on if your stats “don’t look right” – this leads to a site explaining that for the time being stats are not always uniform across devices (it may depend on the browser), which is maddening and no doubt ensures that players will choose their phone, computer or tablet and stick with that moving forward.

At the bottom of the graph is a clock, counting down in hours, minutes and seconds, to the moment the next word will be available. And this may ultimately be the secret to the Wordle craze: there is only one word every twenty-four hours. You soon find yourself thinking about it in the interim, wondering what the wordle will be – and the best five-letter word to set you on course to beat your guess distribution. Learning the letters to eliminate are often just as, if not more important, than knowing what goes in the word. It might take minutes to solve or hours, but you know it will have been worth the wait.

Wordle’s Recipe for Success

If you haven’t played, it may be hard to understand how incredibly addictive this game is. There are no fancy graphics – just white lines and a black background – and no sound effects at all. There are no cute owls or human avatars alternately smiling or looking concerned depending on your performance. They don’t even ask players for pictures or any personal information about themselves – there’s just a button so you can proudly share your stats, as well as a link to play Spelling Bee, another New York Times game that is much harder and, while fun, has not drawn the droves of devotees as Wordle has.

To those debating building a gaming platform, Wordle is proof of how effective it can be, regardless of its complexity and whether or not it has all the bells and whistles. The real power lies in its ability to stimulate the mind, give us a break from our routine, and delay gratification by making a new installment available only once a day.

It doesn’t hurt that Wordle has a sweet backstory (Josh Wardle created it as a gift for his partner, who is a huge fan of word games) – or that it’s free, though sentimentality is merely anecdotal and people would certainly pay, if need be, to feed their craving. Wordle has also spawned a craze in the form of several spin-off games, but it’s hard to believe anything could take the place of the original.

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