Like a lot of people, I’ve become addicted to Wordle, the word guessing game first created by Josh Wardle. It’s sort of like Mastermind for words — you have to guess a five letter word in as few tries as possible. It does not give you any meaning based clues; instead, you enter a guess, and it colors any letters that are correctly in the right position green, any letters that are in the word but in the wrong position a mustard yellow, and any wrong letters dark grey. There’s only one puzzle per day. The game makes it easy to share your score via text or social media by placing an obfuscated version of your guess on the clipboard:
Wordle 679 4/6
(I probably should have gotten that one sooner)
My sister Karen also likes to play, and we tend to text each other our scores. I think we’re basically in the same league; some days she does better than me, somedays I do better than her, and somedays we do the same.
Wardle originally created the game for his wife, and when it became popular, he sold it to the New York Times in January 2022. The Times has maintained free access to the game.
One of the things they’ve added is Wordlebot, which provides an online analysis of the way you played today’s puzzle. What I find fascinating about Wordlebot is the way it solves the puzzle. It’s appears to be mostly probabilistic.
Here’s the way it appears to solve the puzzle:
- It starts off with a fixed list of around 3000 words
- It makes an initial guess, usually SLATE, and then filters out those words that the clue response eliminates. When analyzing your score, it will tell you how many words are still possible based on your guesses.
- It makes another guess, based on the words remaining, probably weighted by some sort of word usage, and repeats until it gets the word.
I don’t work that way. For one thing, even though I have a very large vocabulary, I don’t keep all of them in my head. Here’s I I solve it:
- I start with a word with a couple of vowels and some of the more common consonants. For a long time it was HEART, now I tend to follow Wordlebot and use SLATE
- If none of the vowels hit, I’ll go with a word like SOUND to test a couple of the other vowels. If I did get a vowel, I then have to consider its placement, how many of them I got. Many five letter words have two vowels; if I only got one, then it’s not unlikely there’s a second, and I’ll choose a word to test that. I don’t play in hard mode,
- If one of the vowels is in third position, I tend to try out two letter consonant combinations, since words that begin with a consonant tend to be more common than words that begin with vowels. If I know the first or second letter, that can be constraining, since a lot of letter combinations don’t work — think, for example, “dv”. If I can’t find a two letter consonant combination, then I’ll try a vowel in first position.
In general, I have a sense of English letter patterns, but what I don’t have is a sense of what words I have not yet eliminated. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll agonize over finding a word that fits, trying out different letters to see if they sound right, and then finally, I’ll trip over the word, and it will be immediately obvious it is right.
Then I’ll look at Wordlebot, and it will tell me I’ve eliminated all but one word, and I should have it in the next turn. If I’ve done well, it will have be on the next turn, and other times… not.