May 17, 2022 1:50 pm

Viral phenomenon: behind Wordle there is a love story

Josh Wardle, a software engineer from Brooklyn, knows his partner loves puns, so he created a guessing game just for the two of them. called him Wordle, a mixture of his last name and word, “word in English.

But after his partner played for months, and after it became an obsession in the family WhatsApp group after he introduced it to relatives, Wardle thought he might be onto something. So, in October, he released it to the rest of the world.

On November 1, 90 people played.

And on Sunday, January 2, just two months later, more than 300,000 people played it.

It’s been a meteoric rise for something that is played once a day and invites players to guess a five-letter word in a similar way to guessing the color in the Mastermind game. After you come up with a five-letter word, the game tells you if any of them are included in the secret word and if it’s in the right place. You have six chances to hit.

There are few corners of the internet that are as popular and simple as this website, which Wardle made for himself as a project in his spare time. It has no ads or flashing banners; there are no pop-ups and no money is asked. It’s just a game on a white background.

“I think people kind of appreciate that there’s this thing online that’s just fun,” Wardle said in an interview on Jan. 3. “It’s not trying to do anything weird with your data or your attention. It’s just a fun game.”

It’s not the first time Wardle has suddenly drawn a lot of attention. The former software engineer for Reddit created two collaborative social experiments for that site, called The Button Y Place; both were a phenomenon at the time.

But Wordle was a project he did without a team of engineers. It was just something for him and his partner, Palak Shah, to kill time during the pandemic.

Wardle says he had created a similar prototype in 2013, but his friends weren’t too impressed and he scrapped the idea. In 2020 he and Shah got “excited” about the game Spelling Bee and with him daily crossword of The New York Times “so I wanted to make a game that she would enjoy,” he said.

“I wanted to make a game that she would enjoy,” said Josh Wardle, the engineer who created a game whose title combines his last name with the word word.Shutterstock

The big breakthrough, he said, was limiting participants to one game per day. That imposed a sense of scarcity, which he said was inspired in part by Spelling Bee, a game that leaves people wanting more, he said.

puns have been immensely populars for the Times and other companies in recent years and many, like the Spelling Bee, have dedicated followers.

But since Wordle was originally only created for Wardle and Shah, the initial design lacked many of the growth features that are pretty much expected in games of this era. While other games send notifications to your phone hoping you’ll come back multiple times throughout the day, Wordle isn’t looking for an intense relationship.

“It’s something that encourages you to spend three minutes a day,” he said. “And that’s it. He doesn’t want more of your time than that.”

Wordle didn’t have the result sharing feature until mid-December. Wardle noticed that players were sharing their results via a grid of green, yellow, and black emojis, so he programmed an automatic way for players to brag about their wins so it wouldn’t mess up the answer to the puzzle.

If he was optimizing the game to win as many players as possible, he would have included a link at the bottom of the tool-generated tweet, he said. But after examining it, he said it would have looked “ordinary” and not so visually appealing, and he liked the mysterious air of the grid, which he felt piqued people’s interest.

Although Shah was the lucky catcher of the first game, she has played a key role in preparing it for the public, Wardle said. His first list of all five-letter words in the English language—some 12,000—contained many unknowns that would have been impossible to guess.

So he created another game for Shah: this time she would have to review those 12,000 words and determine if she knew them or not. This reduced Wordle’s vocabulary list to about 2,500, an amount that should last for several years. (Some words have already exasperated the followers: some were annoyed FINANCE, hieroglyph in english and TAPIR, because they said they were not well known).

Shah says she wakes up every morning with a new routine: warming up with Spelling Bee, which she says prepares her mentally for Wordle. He also loves The New York Times Crossword Puzzle and cryptic crossword puzzles.

Although she now shares Wordle with the entire world, she said she appreciated Wardle creating it for her.

“It’s very cute,” he said. “It’s definitely Josh’s way of showing his love.”

Daniel Victor is a London-based general affairs reporter; has reported from Hong Kong and New York. He joined the Times in 2012. @bydanielvictor

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