Wordle: An Ode to the Small Guy
The beauty of Wordle lay in its simplicity.
A stark 5 x 6 grid. Six tries to guess a five letter word- each guess had to be a “real” word. If your word had a letter in the right position the square turned green (or orange in colour blind mode), if the letter was present but in the wrong position, the square turned yellow (or blue in colour blind mode). When you correctly guessed the word, the squares all turned green (or orange), and the option to share the grid on social media popped up.
There were no pop-up ads. No rewards for guessing the word in fewer tries or for maintaining a streak. No archives. Heck, you couldn’t even play more than one game a day.
Wordle created its own community. People who would quietly share their grid on social media. People who would cheer each other on; people who would commiserate with others who were not able to guess a particularly difficult word. Considering the game would be released at midnight local time, there was a huge opportunity for people to spoil it for others by giving the word away- yet almost nobody did. When someone did, others asked them to refrain. Any discussion that took place remained cryptic to ensure no clues were left.
Wordle brought people together. Children introduced their parents to Wordle and watched in dismay as their parents solved it faster and with fewer tries. People spoke of waiting till midnight to hug their partners and whisper “Happy Anniversary”, only to have the partner say, “Wordle”.
Wordle could be exasperating. There were words that didn’t exist as independent words outside Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Words followed the American spelling, which we have all been taught to treat with disdain. We complained, but continued to be charmed.
Wordle broke a cardinal rule of word puzzles. It had words where the same letter was used more than once. We forgave Wordle because it was created by a techie as a gift of love for his partner- he couldn’t be expected to know the unwritten rules, could he?
Word puzzles are supposed to inspire an A-ha moment, where after you fail to guess a word, you should kick yourself for not being able to do so. Wordle used words that rhymed with six other words, so that getting it in three tries or not at all came down to plain luck.
Yet, you remained devoted to Wordle. You waited for midnight so you could do the latest puzzle. Those few minutes you spent on the puzzle were precious. They reminded you that you were a part of a global fraternity. They made you recognise that a world could exist where a Ph.D. in Linguistics had no significant advantage over a high school dropout.
Wordle harked back to a simpler time. A happier time.
Wordle became to the third wave what dalgona coffee and sourdough bread were to the first Lockdown- a harbinger of hope, a unifier to people.
And then it was acquired by a corporate behemoth for a couple of million dollars. The charm is gone. Many will never play Wordle again.