Wednesday, February 16, 2022

 Hands off our Wordle! -- Column of Feb. 17, 2022


“Well, I thought I might be above fads but I was wrong,” my friend Larry, a physician, wrote on Facebook. “I’m addicted to Wordle.”

Who isn’t? The wildly popular word game has many of us hooked.

Wordle is fun, and it’s a friendly challenge. It transports you from everyday cares.

Worried about the high cost of, well, everything? Wordle is free, at least for now. Worried about the state of American politics and culture? Wordle is a politics-free zone.

Solving Wordle brings people together in a shared activity that makes each of us think for ourselves.

I bet if Putin played Wordle, he wouldn’t need to amass Russian troops on the border with Ukraine to feel like Somebody. He’d get a sense of personal accomplishment -- without starting a war. And, yes, there is a version in Russian.

Wordle, in case you’ve not played yet, is simple. You get six tries to guess a five-letter word. With each try, if the correct letter is in the right place, the letter turns green. If it’s the correct letter in the wrong place, it turns yellow. Letters that are not in the word are gray.

The game has a charming back story. Josh Wardle, a software engineer in Brooklyn, created it as a gift for his partner, who loves word games. Wardle named the game Wordle as a play on his last name.

He released the game free to the public in October. It caught on as players shared their winning Wordle diagrams on social media.

The New York Times, which offers games in print and by subscription, bought the rights for Wordle for a price in “in the low seven figures” Jan. 31 and says it is keeping it free for new and existing users “initially.”

It didn’t take long for players to begin griping. Some complain the game is more difficult now with words like cynic and caulk.

Originally, there was one word of the day for everyone worldwide, which meant everyone could compare scores and strategy. On Feb. 15, though, two words were winners. Depending on the platform, the winning word was either agora or aroma.

On the original U.K. site, the winning word was agora, while on the Times site aroma won. This reportedly was a temporary glitch caused by moving to the Times platform. The Times is also removing offensive and obscure words from the game’s dictionary.

Part of the genius of Wordle is its limits. You can play only once a day, with a new word coming at midnight.

For the truly addicted, however, there are many knockoffs. Some free versions allow you to adjust the number of letters and to play endless rounds. It’s very possible to waste a lot of time on Hello Wordl (no e), said the voice of experience.

Another version is Absurdle -- fiendishly difficult because you’re playing against artificial intelligence that changes the five-letter target word as you play. It gave me a headache.

For the high brow, the Folger Shakespeare Library unveiled Prattle. Players can choose to guess words ranging from four to 11 letters, each from one of the library’s Shakespeare texts.

A joy of Wordle is touching base – commiserating or celebrating – with friends and family via Wordle scores. For Denyse Holt, 80, of Lincolnwood, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, Wordle became more than a diversion.

Holt awoke in the middle of the night on Feb. 6 to find a bleeding, naked man holding scissors standing over her. The man would hold her hostage in her home for more than 20 hours.

When Holt didn’t text her older daughter her daily Wordle score, and when she didn’t respond to texts or calls, her daughters, who live in California and Oregon, got worried.

The family contacted police for a wellness check. Police found Holt locked in a basement bathroom. The intruder, who had broken in through a window, was still in the house. He was subdued, arrested and taken to jail on several charges.

So, the Times may think it bought a fad that it can monetize, but it also bought a way millions of people connect with each other in a crazy, fractured time.

Don’t mess with our Wordle!

©2022 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.








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