On being ... Wordle wise?

By Ingrid Sapona

I play Wordle pretty much every day. I do the one in the New York Times. To be honest, I’m glad they limit you to one game per day (unlike some on-line versions), otherwise I might be confessing to an addiction instead of mere infatuation. 

Wordle hasn’t been around for too long. I remember reading about it when the Times bought it this past January. It was created by Josh Wardle, a Welsh software engineer. (Clearly, the game’s name is a play on his name. But, if he’d have asked me, I’d have suggested the name be only five letters: Wordl. Anyway, who am I to argue with a guy who made millions on something he started for fun!) 

When I first heard about it, I assumed it was basically a digital version of Jotto – a game I used to enjoy as a kid. Jotto is played with two people and the object of it is to figure out the secret five letter word your opponent wrote down. 

In Jotto, each player takes a turn guessing their opponent’s word. If the word you guess is your opponent’s secret word, you win. But, if the word you guess isn’t the secret word, your opponent tells you how many letters in your guess is are in their secret word. Your opponent doesn’t specify which letter(s) from your guess are in their secret word, however. So, Jotto is as much about narrowing down the letters in your opponent’s word as it is about figuring out what the secret word is once you have honed in on the letters. 

So, calling on my Jotto expertise, I started playing Wordle. Using the Jotto strategy of first eliminating letters, opening guesses might look something like this:


Pretty clever, huh? Well, that works ok in Jotto because a Jotto game could go as many as 35 guesses. If you use this technique in Wordle, however, you soon realize the genius/cruelty of only getting six tries. 

When I discovered my sister did the Times Wordle too, we compared strategies. She’s convinced the key is to nailing down the vowels early on. To do this, she uses a modified Jotto strategy, starting with two words that are vowel rich. For example, she likes starting with audio – and why not – I has four vowels. I liked that method too, though I tended to start with aerie. (Only three vowels, but, arguably the most common ones.) She was delighted when I mentioned aerie, as she realized that between aerie and audio, she’d hit all the vowels. 

After a few weeks I found starting with the same words too uncreative. So, I started beginning with totally random words. I chose a word I saw in that morning’s NY Times newsletter. To me it was more fun than trying to strategize about what vowels might be in the word. When I tried to convince my sister to try starting with different words every day, she wouldn’t hear of it. Oh well… to each her own, I thought. 

About a month ago I was talking to a friend about Wordle and the different strategies I’d tried. Before telling me his method, he asked how successful I’ve been at solving the game. He was unimpressed when I told him I usually get it in four or five. He said he usually gets it in three – or sometimes four. Naturally, I asked how. 

He starts with a random word. If that guess yields any letters in that day’s Wordle, he makes sure his next guess includes those letters. And, if a letter is correct but in the wrong place, he won’t use it in that place again. I asked him to show me and we started a new game as follows: 


So, after GAMED we kept the A but moved the E in our second guess. Ok, then what? I asked. He said he sits there and looks at it and just thinks about it. And thinks about it… It soon became clear I’m not as patient as he is. Antsy, I suggested canoe. Then, continuing with his method, we quickly finished as follows:



I was pleased with the win but he was frustrated it took us five tries! Jeesh... 

He succeeded in making me a convert to his method though. And, even if my results aren’t always a brag-worthy three or four, his method has focused me more on words, which I love. Now I pay more attention to letter combinations and to how words are constructed. Here’s a good example:


Obviously, my first guess was lucky, yielding three letters. But after that, I figured it’s likely the S and H were together. From there, it was just a question of whether they were at the start or end of the word… 

What about you? Are you a Wordle enthusiast? Have you tried a variety of strategies? If so, do you have a particular approach you like best? Do you brag to friends and family about your results? 

If you’re one of the few who haven’t played it, perhaps now you’ll give it a try.  I’ll bet that before you know it, you’ll be doing it daily just to get that little buzz from solving it – regardless of whether your efforts yield a Magnificent, Impressive, Splendid, or even just a reassuring Whew. 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona


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