You’ve probably heard of Wordle – the puzzle game that took the Internet by storm in January 2022. The game itself is simple: a puzzle that comes out once a day, features solutions that never feel so obscure as to make the game impossible, and provides a few minutes of concentration for millions of players each morning. The player guesses five letter words, and is told whether they got any of the letters correct and whether those letters are in the correct position. The goal is to get the word in as few guesses as possible, but if you haven’t been successful after 6 guesses, the game is over.
On top of the game being well designed and fun, it comes with a cute backstory for players to gush over. Inventor Josh Wardle created the game as a gift to his partner with a penchant for word games and the community grew from Josh and his immediate circle to a worldwide sensation. While at first Wardle insisted that he had no interest in making money off of the game and simply enjoyed the excitement surrounding it, he sold the game to the New York Times for an undisclosed 7 figure sum in late January.
It’s unsurprising that the New York Times would express an interest in the game given their existing catalog of short daily word games. Wordle is a valid addition to the daily crosswords (both full size and mini) as well as others including the Spelling Bee. However, many users have expressed displeasure at the New York Times’ “version” of Wordle. Before the acquisition, the game would randomly generate a solution word each day from a bank of around 2500 five letter words selected by Wardle’s partner as recognizable, acceptable answers. However, once the game made its switch to the New York Times’ platform on February 10, there was almost immediately a streak of more difficult words, including ulcer, cynic, and caulk. Users on Twitter expressed their outrage, worrying that the New York Times had made Wordle more difficult to match its notoriously tricky daily crossword.
According to the media giant, this is not the case. While the NYT has gone into the game and removed certain words, including profanity and words spelled using British English, it has not added any words nor has it begun to manually select the daily solution. Random generation necessitates that harder words will be selected, and it is not unreasonable that they may come close together.
It seems that in general, the frustration surrounding Wordle may be more rooted in the change in the story behind the game rather than any differences in the game itself. While users could once feel a sense of parasocial pride for Wardle’s achievement, playing a game hosted by a media giant like the New York Times lacks the charm it once had. In a world where users feel overwhelmed by the same massive companies dominating their respective industries, it was nice to support something that felt more homegrown.