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Wordle: get to grips with the viral word guessing game

01 February 2022

Find out how the fun new word game has been taking the world by storm, and what the best starting Wordle words are.

Wordle on a phone
Wordle is a word game that fits in with our hectic schedules

Step aside, Words With Friends. Wordle is the new internet-based word game that is taking the world by storm.

If you’ve seen your friends sharing strange rows of yellow and green square icons on their Facebook or Twitter feeds and wondered what the blazes is going on you aren’t alone. Wordle, the simple, easy to play daily word game, has rocketed in popularity since being released in October, quickly becoming a viral sensation, thanks largely to the curiosity piqued by seeing the mysterious tiles. 

The game has managed to unite people in times of both success and exasperation, depending on how tricky that day’s word is. Daniele Saccardi, language expert at Preply, says “it’s so encouraging to see so many people enjoying and interacting with language online. Wordle has been a surprise online hit, and anything that gets people thinking about language, and challenging themselves is definitely welcome.”

The game was created by software engineer Josh Wardle, who made a prototype back in 2013, before finessing the game last year specifically for his partner to play as part of their morning routine. Wordle has since become an online sensation, with online searches for the word increasing by 2180% in the UK alone, according to online tracking tool ahrefs.

Wordle’s popularity did not go unnoticed, with the New York Times snapping up the popular game for an undisclosed seven-figure sum. “It doesn’t take long to play, which makes it perfect for our age when people have short attention spans,” said the New York Times’ crossword editor, Will Shortz.

Those already obsessed (or about to start playing) needn’t worry about Wordle moving behind a paywall. The New York Times have announced that Wordle will remain free to play and no changes will be made to the gameplay. Creator Wardle is also working with NYT to make sure players’ wins and streaks will be carried over.

Play fun, free online games, including crosswords, sudokus and codewords, at our new website Exceptional.

How do you play Wordle?

Wordle is a free daily online word guessing game. Each day a new five letter word appears on the website. You have six opportunities to guess the word. For every guess you will be told whether any of the letters you used are the right letter in the right place (they go green) or the right letter in the wrong place (they turn yellow). The tiles of letters that aren’t used at all stay grey.

Once you’ve guessed the word you can share to your own newsfeed – friends won’t see the word (spoiling it for other players is a major no-no!) but will see how quickly you got it right. There are serious bragging rights to be had for getting the word within a couple of guesses.

Once you’ve done the daily puzzle Wordle will save your statistics, including how many times you’ve played, the percentage you got right, your current streak, max streak and your guess distribution. It’ll also include a countdown to the next word.

Up the difficulty with Wordle hard mode

If you’re after more of a challenge then Wordle has you covered. Go to the settings (the cog in the corner) and switch on ‘hard mode’.

In Wordle’s hard mode you must use the correct letters you have discovered in your next entry. 

Choosing your Wordle starting words

The key to success is being smart with your starting words, and the internet has theories.

In a video that has since been viewed more than 2.5 million times, TikTok user @linguisticdiscovery suggests E, A and I are the most common vowels in the English language, and T and R being the most common consonants. Their suggested starting word is ‘irate’.

Another Tiktoker, username @tokbyzeb, suggests starting with ‘roate’ and then trying ‘linds’. He worked this out after creating a program that uses mathematics to work out the best combination of starting words (watch the explanation here).

Cambridge mathematics professor Tim Gowers suggested using vowel-heavy words such as ‘tripe’ and ‘coals’ to get started.

Adieu is a popular starting word, as are other vowel-heavy words such as about and audio. 

Saccardi says "it’s interesting to see the many theories appearing about the best word to use as a first guess in Wordle, as people are engaging with language theory, and how words are formed, but it’s all being done in an enjoyable and accessible way. And remember, the only tip that really matters when you’re playing Wordle is to enjoy it. That said, I always start with ‘email.’”

Popular starting words, including those mentioned above, include:

  • Irate
  • Roate
  • Linds
  • Tripe
  • Coals
  • Their
  • Adieu
  • About
  • Audio
  • Email

Generally any vowel-heavy word is a good bet for your opening strike, so play around and try different words. Some players prefer to stick to more personal first guesses, choosing to start with meaningful or lucky words. Some say it’s more fun just to wing it and put on whichever word takes your fancy that day. Whatever your method, the main thing is to enjoy yourself.

Getting stuck

If you’re close to the final word but you can’t quite grasp it help is at hand. The Free Dictionary allows you to browse words that ‘start with’, ‘end with’ and ‘contains’, so if you have a few of the letters but are completely stumped it might help to put in the letters you have and browse their list for five letter words.

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