What Is 'Wordle'? New Online Puzzle Game Explained

Wordle is a new craze that has taken the internet by storm, but if you have only been exposed to it through vague social media posts then you're unlikely to know what it is.

Over the last week or so, you may have noticed unusually formatted posts doing the rounds on Twitter, featuring multi-colored blocks and what look like meaningless strings of numbers without much in the way of explanation. Your initial assumption might be that this is just some kind of meme or joke that has just passed you by, yet that's not the case.

Instead, what you are seeing here is people sharing their results from a new online conundrum known as Wordle. Accessed via web browser (like Google or Safari), this logic puzzle has you trying to guess a five-letter word, in what amounts to a modernized version of the pen-and-paper game Hangman.

The word in question is always the same for everybody around the globe and it is updated daily at 7 p.m. ET. As such, you only have 24 hours to crack each puzzle, before it vanishes for good.

In terms of how it works, you get six attempts to figure out the word of the day. To begin with, you must inevitably take a complete shot in the dark by selecting five letters at random.

Unless you have miraculously predicted the right answer on your first go, you will then be informed of where you went wrong. Any letters that you have guessed correctly (and put in the exact right place) will display as green, while those that are in the wrong place will show as yellow, and the ones that do not appear in the word at all will be greyed out.

Wordle Screenshot
Image shows a game of "Wordle" in progress. The green letters squares indicate that a letter has been put in the right place, yellow means that the letter is in the word of the day but not somewhere else, and incorrect letters are shown as grey. PowerLanguage

Equipped with this knowledge, you then have five more tries at guessing the word of the day, using deductive reasoning skills and the process of elimination. If you don't get it by the end, then the game will just tell you what the right answer was (so you won't be left hanging).

Given that the word of the day is identical for everybody, there is an element of friendly competition here, as people try to solve it in the fewest possible attempts. This is why people have taken to sharing their results on social media, in the form of those cryptic tweets mentioned earlier.

Speaking of which, if you are wondering what those social media posts actually mean, we have broken down the individual elements using the following example:

  • Wordle 197: This means that this is the 197th Wordle puzzle that has been published.
  • 5/6: This means that the social media users managed to guess the answer on his fifth try.
  • The Colored Squares: These indicate how the game unfolded, with grey blocks indicating incorrect letters, yellow standing in for misplaced letters, and green signifying when a letter was put in the right place.

When you finish a Wordle game, there will be a button you can press to automatically generate one of these posts and share it on social media. It is right next to a timer that is counting down to the next puzzle.

Wordle Share Screen
Image shows the statistics page in Wordle. After you have completed a daily puzzle, you will have the option to share your results on social media. PowerLanguage

Wordle's unassuming origins were recently explored in a New York Times article, where it was revealed that it was created by Josh Wardle (formerly a software engineer for Reddit). He initially devised the game just for his partner but, after it become hugely popular within his own personal circles, he decided to release it to the world in October 2021.

Since then, Wordle has been a huge hit, going from having just 90 active players to 300,000 as of January 2.

According to the New York Times piece, there are a total of 2,500 five-letter words in the game's database (cherry picked from approximately 12,000 possibilities in the English dictionary), which means that there should be enough to last for almost seven years.

Newsweek has contacted Wardle for comment on the enormous success of Wordle. At the time of writing, there has been no reply.