Wordle creator Josh Wardle explains the simplicity of his game

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I started playing Wordle on January 3rd after seeing these colorful squares on my Twitter feed. At first I typed in wordle.com and quickly realized that wasn’t the correct URL. I told my mom about it and she said she was playing it in an app, but there are no official Wordle apps, there are only copycat apps trying to capitalize on Wordle’s success. Worlde is a deceptively simple and addictive five letter word game that can only be played once a day. You can access it at Powerlanguage.co.uk. It gives all users the same puzzle every day. There is no companion app, there is no way to play more than once a day, and there are no advertisements, merchandise or paid options. It turns out that all of this is by design. Creator Josh Wardle told Slate Magazine that he used to work for Silicon Valley companies and that he wanted to create a simple word game to play with his partner.

On why he created Wordle
The goal with Wordle actually was to create a word game for my partner to play. She and I got really into the New York Times crossword, and she plays a lot of Spelling Bee as well.

I wanted to try making a game that she and I would enjoy playing together, and Wordle was a result of that. I’d actually created a prototype of it back in 2013, and the mechanics were the same. Some of the big differences were it was endless play. As soon as you finish one puzzle, you could move on to the next one, which Wordle doesn’t do. You can only play Wordle once a day and it’s the same word for everyone.

He made the shareable results grid in December
The first thing I have to point out is that I did not come up with the emoji grid. Wordle, as I built it, got picked up in a New York Times newsletter, and people started playing it, and there was no share grid. And for some reason that I don’t fully understand, the game got big in New Zealand, and New Zealand Twitter was playing a lot of the game, and someone out there who I don’t know—she’s called Elizabeth S, and I only know her on Twitter—came up with the emoji grid as a spoiler-free way of sharing her results with other people. (There are slight spoilers if you really want to be pedantic about it, but not really.) Previously, people were just saying, “Wordle in three,” and then she added this visual component that tells a story. So I saw other people start doing it and then manually typing out the emoji grid, going back and forth and referencing it. So I’m like, I can make this, I can just pull this into the game. And obviously that’s had a huge impact in helping it go viral.

Not including a link was, again, one of those things that’s the opposite of what you’re meant to do. If your goal is growth, then you should definitely include a link to your thing. And so originally I had a link, but when you share it on Twitter, it tries to show a big preview of the thing. And I was like, it feels spammy. It feels like I want them to share it because I get something. Just removing it made all that simpler. They were sharing for themselves,

On Wordle’s design
I used to work in Silicon Valley, and I’m aware of the things that, especially with games, you’re meant to do with people’s attention. You’re trying to capture as much of people’s attention as you can. So that involves things like endless play, or sending them push notifications, or asking them for sign-up information.

And philosophically, I enjoy doing the opposite of all those things, doing all the things that you are not meant to do, which I think has bizarrely had this effect where the game feels really human and just enjoyable. And that really resonates with where we’re at right now in the world and with COVID, and then also we’re trying to figure out, what is tech? What has tech become? I think that really resonates with people, and no ads—well, no monetization. People ask me a lot about these things, and it was like, I was literally just making a game for my partner, and I made some decisions that we would like.

[From Slate]

I was so impressed with Josh’s philosophy and how humble and straightforward he is. In this week’s Gossip With Celebitchy podcast, Kaiser and I talked about the fact that the Celebitchy design has not changed in years. Part of that is our “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality along with the fact that we’re old and stubborn. More than that, I used to work as a usability specialist in the late 90s and early 2000s. There’s a simplicity and ease to early design that is lost in current mobile apps. I’ve almost never seen a website or software redesign that was easier to use and understand. In most cases they’re designed to make us addicted and in many cases frustrated and spending more time there. That’s why Wordle is such a breath of fresh air. It’s so fun to play but it also understands that we have other things to do, and that we will come back every day without being pestered.

Incidentally, yesterday’s word, knoll, was tough! That’s not a spoiler because it’s not like you can go back and do older puzzles. Josh talked about the word difficulty in this interview. He initially programmed the game with all the five letter words in the English language but soon realized that would be too hard to play and filtered that list down. He doesn’t pick the words, they’re random so that both he and his partner can play, which is sweet. I came away from this really respecting Josh and his process. If he wants to add a paid option, I would gladly subscribe.

photos credit: Ghen Mar Cuano and Laura Chouette on Unsplash, Mentatdgt on Pexels

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47 Responses to “Wordle creator Josh Wardle explains the simplicity of his game”

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  1. minx says:

    I play it every night after midnight. Simple and fun.

  2. Becks1 says:

    I’m working on my wordle right now LOL.

    I do like how simple it is. Just solve the puzzle, and move on. If you miss a day, its NBD, you don’t get points for showing up everyday, you don’t need to check in, no ads, etc.

    I do feel like I’m getting worse every day though lol. I couldn’t even get knoll yesterday!

    I also really like/appreciate the simplicity of this site. so many other celebrity gossip sites just have SO much going on and while they have stories that I like, sometimes its just too much for me to follow, especially as I’m drinking my morning tea, lol. I find this site easy to navigate and to search when needed, and the comments are “readable.”

    • Jezz says:

      I agree — I love the design of Celebitchy. It is a perfect format: easy to scan, easy to choose, easy to comment.

  3. gemcat says:

    I LOVE how I gives you a little insight into how your mind works as well, like which words you choose to go with first, and I mean yeah technically you should use a word with many different vowels, but sometimes I’m all “nah fuck it”!
    But yeah knoll was hard .. although so far out of 15 times I’ve played I’ve only had one time where I got it on the sixth and final try, generally I get it on the third or fourth try.. knoll was fourth I think -no doubt I’ll miss tomorrow’s just because I said that tho haha 🤪

    • minx says:

      Yeah, I started to read a story with suggestions for the first words, then I thought, screw it, I’m just going with whatever pops into my head.

    • Jan90067 says:

      I NEVER would’ve guessed KNOLL. I *did* try KNOWN, but that was on the 6th try! lol

      I’m usually pretty good, getting it on the 3rd or 4th try, sometimes 5th. Only once on the 2nd try, and NEVER on the first (has anyone, ever???)

      I am loving it though!

  4. Lauren Too says:

    I failed miserably at guessing today’s word lol

    • Becks1 says:

      I definitely did not get today’s either. I think my brain is starting to rebel lol. And I think I need a new starting word.

    • Jezz says:

      Today’s was so embarrassingly hard!
      It’s a great game and a great community bonding movement is crap lonely times.

    • Celebitchy says:

      It was really hard! It’s a common word with a weird structure. I think that’s why I like Wordle, it makes you think about words differently.

    • tealily says:

      Today was tricky! I randomly picked a word with three of the letters for my first word and was able to figure it out, but I’m not sure I would have gotten it if it had taken me longer to work out the vowel situation.

      • Lauren Too says:

        I had 4 letters out of 5 all in yellow because I couldn’t figure out an order. By my last try I had 3 in the correct place but no more chances.

      • tealily says:

        @Lauren Too Womp womp! Worst feeling. 🙁

        There’s always tomorrow, though. Which is why Wordle’s so great!

  5. Sandra says:

    Just played it for the first time! Thanks!

  6. Jegede says:

    I went to the same Uni as Jason Wardle!!!😁😁

    That’s all I got.😞😞

  7. mellie says:

    I love the Wordle, the one a couple of days ago, ‘wince’ nearly broke my streak. That was hard for me. Thank God you can only play it once a day!

    • mia girl says:

      For me it was ‘crimp’! I thought I had it typing in chimp, only to be foiled again! I did finally answer correctly and managed not to blow my winning streak.

      I have my whole family playing now and a group text to share our daily results.

    • Becks1 says:

      I got wince and crimp and prick from a few days ago but I did not get knoll yesterday and I did not get the word for today. But it does usually take me 4 or 5 tries. Once I got it in 3 tries and that felt like a miracle, lol.

    • Lauren Too says:

      I got wince on my third try, crimp was waaaaaaay waaaaaaaaaaaay worse.

  8. Orangeowl says:

    I started because so many people were posting their little grids on social media so clearly that is an effective tool. I love it, a little brain warmup to start my day, It reminds me of the game Mastermind that I used to play with my family and then with my kids. But I like it better than Mastermind because I’m an English major/writer/grammar nerd.

    We always used to mock my brother in law for saying “process of elimination” in a highly professorial way when he tried to teach his young son Mastermind and that is now what I think of when I play Wordle, lol.

  9. Lucy2 says:

    I’m enjoying it, but couldn’t get 219.
    Thank you for not changing the format of this page! I hate when websites I use frequently change it up for no reason, it’s never for the better.

  10. Miss+Jupitero says:

    It’s Wheel of Fortune without Vanna White.

    So far my streak is unbroken, but I dread the day when I just won’t get it.

  11. Jessica says:

    I got so frustrated yesterday with knoll! After I tried “droll” on try #5, I cheated and looked up words that end in “oll” and knoll was the first one lol. I’ve had my bf help with one day, and I missed another, but other than that I’ve been able to guess them. Once a day things are better for me cause I can get addicted playing.

  12. Eurydice says:

    Good for him, but I wish he’d explain how I used to play this many years before he invented it, and maybe even many years before he was born. I know I used to play it, but I can’t remember the name of the game.

  13. Nick+G says:

    I got knoll in 3 but honestly, I was practising using my intuition and that helps a lot! My son is very intuitive and gets it most days in 3, which is pretty aggravating.

    • TeamMeg says:

      Based on the quantum theory idea that thoughts are energy, I am developing a theory about intuition in Wordle. In short: You’ve got all the people in the world playing the same game on the same day, and all aware of the same winning word. That’s a ton of minds thinking of the same word, leading to a hive mind phenomenon, if you will. The word is being transmitted into the hive’s energy field, and people who are intuitive seem to be able to “pick up” on it.

      Anyhoo, I love Wordle, too!! I won in 2 tries today—very rare that happens (my average is 4) and it’s a THRILL! Knoll was tough, though. No question! Ditto for Wince. 😉

  14. MaryContrary says:

    I played for the first time yesterday-and I got stumped by the double LL at the end-didn’t know you could repeat letters. Now I know. Off to play today’s!

  15. CeeGee says:

    You can go back and do all the past puzzles/as many a day as you want – just google Matthew Somerville Wordle Bookmarklet and/or Dracos. It is an extension that lets you type in any day you want and it pulls in the puzzle. It works great – I’ve done about 200 of them.

  16. Wendy says:

    We knew it would happen … there are several archive sites for Wordle now – I’ve done the first 10 of the early ones. This one keep track of all your results. I found some of the early ones really hard … anyhow, this is good for killing time!


  17. Case says:

    I started Wordle a few days ago and I love it. I do it when I drink my morning coffee. I’m a big Scrabble fan so it’s really fun for me. And I love that it’s only once a day — we have delayed gratification on so few things anymore, and so it feels special to only get to play once a day. It makes you really consider when you want to sit down and enjoy it.

  18. Atticus says:

    I am recently hooked on Wordle and love it! Thanks for this article, it’s a fun read and I never would’ve known the philosophy behind it. Pretty cool he isn’t going to commercialize it.

    Also I’ve been a loyal Celebitchy reader for over a decade and LOVE the user friendliness of the site – not to mention the content and community. Thanks for all you do to keep us informed. I tell all my friends this is my main news source. 🙂

  19. Jem says:

    I play this every evening with my daughter just before her bed time. We both get on a different device and see who can get the wordle first. It’s really cute as my daughter is at the age where her vocabulary is just starting to build up so she can play the game but finds it very challenging. She gets super excited when she works out the word first. There was one time where she had no yellow letters, only green, and managed to find the word first and in the least amount of guesses – pure joy!

    My best friend lives in another country so we both solve our puzzles in our respective time zones and send the results back and forth. It’s so much fun to laugh over our attempts (and missteps!)

  20. Kate says:

    Thank you for this post! I heard about wordle and downloaded the “wordle app” (or so I thought) did it for like 2 minutes and got frustrated and stopped wondering why this was so great that everyone is doing it. Just did the ACTUAL wordle and I get it! Very fun

  21. Zen says:

    The game reminds me so much of Mastermind. I played that obsessively as a kid with my sister . We both got really good at it. I actually got knoll, but today’s was hard and took me until the 6th guess. The little comment that comes up, “phew”, when you get it on the 6th attempt always makes me laugh. I totally love this game and how I can just play once and I’m done. And no ads or pop ups.

    • AnneL says:

      Yesterday’s word was hard and so was today’s. I find that if I haven’t guessed it by the third try I step away from the game and come back later with fresh eyes. It worked for me today.

      • Lucky Charm says:

        I don’t play every day, but I do enjoy it. I got today’s word on the third try, but it was really hard! After the second try, I had to step back and walk away for a while because I was getting frustrated trying so hard to figure it out. And the relief when the third try was all green was immense lol!

  22. tealily says:

    I’ve gotten BIG into the NYT crossword and Spelling Bee over the past couple of months, and originally I scoffed at Wordle a bit because it seems so easy by comparison. But it’s totally different kind of game. I’ve really been enjoying it. I haven’t been sharing on social media, which I feel like is half the point, but it’s a fun little daily challenge for me and me alone (communally).

  23. Vera says:

    I used to play this game as a child 30+ years ago in Hungary, we just called the the 5 letter game. It had the same rules – not exactly the same colours – 5 letters (non conjugated words, singular, present tense etc) … letters coded by not being the word, being in it but not the right place and being in the right place.
    Kind of strange now seeing an english version of it becoming massive and being apparently a newly invented one lol

  24. Vera says:

    forgot to add, we didn’t have a guess limit as it was a 2 person game, like Battleship where the first person getting it all right won. it’s also easier (or maybe harder) in English as English has less written vowels (5) v 14 in Hungarian.
    so in English you can nail down the vowels in 2 guesses, if you chose words with the most popular consonants, it’s the best strategy for the first 2 guesses.

  25. Janice says:

    Hi Can anyone recommend any good spelling bee type app games or similar?