Playing Wordle

My daughters got me started on trying my hand at Wordle, the online word-guessing game. You have to guess a five-letter English word. After each guess, you are told if you had a correct letter in the correct place or a correct letter in the wrong place.

The good thing about this is that it takes just a few minutes. It turns out that on average, people guess the correct word in slightly less than four attempts. I was initially surprised at this because I thought that it would take more tries. But it turns out that of the possible 12,000 or so five-letter words, the puzzle only uses 2,309 common ones. You quickly realize that is not that hard to zero in on the correct word. If you are baffled, you can find the answer to the day’s puzzle here.

A helpful piece of information is the frequency of letters that appear in English words. In descending order, they are: E A R I O T N S L C U D P M H G B F Y W K V X Z J Q. The choice of a good starting word is important and this article discusses possible choices.

This game is similar in spirit to the board game Mastermind, where you have pegs of eight different colors and one person places five of them (colors can be repeated) in a particular arrangement and the other person has to guess what the pattern is in as few attempts as possible. After each attempt, you are told if you have a peg of the right color in the right location or the right color in the wrong location. This is harder than Wordle because there are 85 = 32,768 combinations. (If you want to make it even harder, you can allow for an empty slot so that the number of combinations becomes 95 = 59,049.) The online version of Mastermind allows you to vary the number of pegs.


  1. anat says

    If Wordle isn’t enough for you, try Octordle, where you solve 8 wordles simultaneously.

    There are also the math versions -- Mathler and Nerdle where you guess mathematical equations. There are also versions of Wordle in many languages. Then there is Worldle where you guess countries/territories by the outlines of their maps (the game gives you clues in the form of distance and direction from your guess to the correct answer), Heardle were you guess songs by their opening notes. There is an oec guessing game where you guess countries by their exports and a Eurovision song contest guessing game, plenty for all tastes.

  2. Matt G says

    I learned not too long ago that Morse code was based on letter frequency, but Alfred Vail estimated this based on the number of each letter in movable type boxes at a Morristown, NJ newspaper (per Wikipedia).

    There is also a game called Word Mastermind.

  3. Mano Singham says

    Matt G,

    Letter frequency varies slightly according to the source material. For example, if you calculate letter frequency based what you find in ordinary texts, then that is affected by the fact that certain words are used more than others in ordinary use and so the letters in those words have a greater increased frequency than what they would have based on all the words in a dictionary. The frequency I quoted is based on a dictionary.

  4. says

    My most common result is getting it in four, followed closely by three. There are a lot of people who stick to one opening word, “CRANE” has been suggested as optimum and there are those who try to narrow down the vowels immediately with something like “ADIEU” but I enjoy it more using a different word every day. I’m not saying I don’t repeat words, but I definitely mix it up.

    It can also be played on hard mode where the game makes you makes you play the same letters if you get any right and you can’t do anything about it. The problem is if you get a word ending up with something like “…IGHT” it stops being a challenge and becomes pure luck taking guesses at the starting letter. Personally I’ll play with self-imposed hard mode rules with the exception that if I get a word like that I can do a throwaway word to rule out letters because I’d prefer to lose by not figuring it out instead of having the bad luck to pick the one wrong letter several times.

    Something I learned when seeing it trend on Twitter is that a surprising number of people don’t think a word like “slyly” has any vowels. Even more people seem to be caught off guard when a word has the same letter in it twice.

  5. fentex says

    I haven’t played this Wordle, but I recognize it.

    it is not a new game, it is the game ‘Mastermind’ that was popular in the 1970’s around here -- only with letters & words instead of colours.

    I imagine using words makes it easier, even though there’s theoretically more variety (at each ‘slot’) in 26 letters, because the choice of actual words brings grammar, spelling and limited selections from dictionaries into it.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    it is not a new [idea], it is the [old idea] — only with [a crucial element of the idea changed to make it different]

    The Dyson vacuum cleaner wasn’t a new idea, it just was a bag vacuum cleaner only without the bag.

    The Rubik cube wasn’t a new idea, it was just the 15 puzzle only in three dimensions.

    Star Wars wasn’t a new film, it was just old Flash Gordon serials and Japanese adventure movies only with colour and special effects. And so on.


  7. says

    Letter frequency isn’t the only factor, so is placement. In a five letter word, I is most likely to be second or third, and H either first, second or last (thanks to digraphs, used two there). Once you eliminate or confirm the most likely places, it severely limits the possibilities.

    This is why TINES and HOARD are always my first two guesses, followed by CLUMP if there’s not enough information. (Hoard *was* the answer a week or so ago.) Those are the fourteen most common letters (88% of English letters), all in likely places.

    The words that trip me up are those where multiple options exist with one space left. I guessed SHAWL the other day instead of SHALL, wasting a turn.

    There’s also WordHurdle (formerly Wordle2, change due to legal action) which is twice per day, and uses six letter words. It’s actually easier.

  8. says

    MS (#3) --

    But a dictionary identifies every word’s part of speech, leading to an unusually larger number of certain letters (e.g. J in adjective, V in verb, P in preposition). Even with abbreviations, letter frequencies from a dictionary aren’t the same as natural language.

  9. Dauphni says

    Wordle isn’t even the first game to apply Mastermind mechanics to word guessing challenges, Lingo already did that all the way back in 1987, with virtually identical results.

    You can say

    The Dyson vacuum cleaner wasn’t a new idea, it just was a bag vacuum cleaner only without the bag.

    The Rubik cube wasn’t a new idea, it was just the 15 puzzle only in three dimensions.

    Star Wars wasn’t a new film, it was just old Flash Gordon serials and Japanese adventure movies only with colour and special effects. And so on.

    but these examples all describe legitimate innovations, whereas Wordle is just fully plagiarised from Lingo.

  10. Deepak Shetty says

    @Tabby Lavalamp
    >The problem is if you get a word ending up with something like “…IGHT”
    My downfall(so far) has been _OUND where in a display of profound stupidity I opted to follow the strict rule and have regretted it ever since.

  11. sonofrojblake says


    Wordle isn’t even the first game to apply Mastermind mechanics to word guessing challenges, Lingo already did that all the way back in 1987

    (For posterity -- a link to an ebay auction of a branded “Word Mastermind” game from 1975.)

    Wordle is just fully plagiarised from Lingo

    False. For starters, per your own link, Lingo begins with the first letter filled in. Wordle, in case you’ve never played it, begins with NO letters filled in. This is a pretty large difference.

    Also many, many commentators have observed three factors absolutely critical to the viral success of Wordle:
    1. you get ONE word puzzle per day, absolutely no more. This is important because you can’t play it to death on day 1 and get bored of it. It’s a drip, drip, in a way completely at odds with Lingo, which of necessity repeats its format over and over in the show.
    2. everyone playing gets the same word -- so all players are in the same boat, playing alone against that one word, and can boast, sympathise, congratulate and commiserate and comment on particularly off-the-wall day (I mean, ffs, NYMPH???). The players in Lingo are in direct competition with each other and against a time limit -- Wordle has no time limits, apart from the 24 hour refresh -- and you only get to play your opponent’s word if they fail to supply a valid guess in 5 seconds.
    3. the ability to share your result without spoiling the puzzle for others. Absolutely critical to the ongoing conversations around the game, and without ANY parallel in Lingo.

    So… yeah, fully plagiarised from Lingo, apart from all the things that make Wordle virally successful and demonstrably and significantly different from Lingo. Pretty much all it’s taken from Lingo in fact is the Mastermind mechanic and the choice of five letters as a playable length. Beyond that, everything listed above are what you describe as “legitimate innovations”.

  12. file thirteen says

    Re Octordle, took me a while to work out that the clocks represented numbers for which there were no emojis: 11, 12 and 13. 13 is represented by 1 o’clock, presumably because 1pm is 13:00.

    Daily Octordle #79

  13. SRA says

    One of the important aspects of Wordle is that everyone gets the same word and results are easily shareable. It gives us all a tiny shared experience each day.

  14. anat says

    Of course there is the NYT/original downloaded link split. I refuse to give the NYT my clicks, so I downloaded the link from the original site before the move. The NYT version removed some words they expected might cause a backlash (such as ‘slave’ ‘lynch’ etc) and some they thought were too esoteric. I think I am behind the majority of the Wordle world by 3 days by now as a result.

    Also, Octordle uses a different word list than Wordle. Some words that are recognized by Octordle aren’t recognized by Wordle.

  15. says

    Deepak Shetty @10

    Yup. I don’t mind losing if I make a mistake or I fail to work it out or even if it’s a word I’ve never heard of. Getting to a place where I can only get it if I pick the right consonant out of many though? That’s just misery.

    That being said, the last time I didn’t get it I was struggling and managed to get the last four letters on my fifth guess which left me with no choice but to just guess for the sixth, and I guessed wrong.

    I remember.”..OUND” as that was the last time I had to stray from the hard mode rules. I got the last four letters on turn two then on turn three I gave it a guess. Turn four is where I went off script and figured out a word that had every letter except one so it would either be in there or it would be the remaining letter (unless it was a word I had never heard of) and sure enough it was the first letter in that guess, so it was a turn five win. (Very little of of this except remembering that I did use this tactic is seared into my brain, I’m one of those insufferable people who posts my results on Twitter so I had to go back and check. )

  16. says

    As soon as I saw Wordle, it reminded me of Master Mind and a much older computer game, Bulls and Cows — implemented on just about everything with a version of BASIC — which involved guessing a number and scoring a “bull” for each digit in the correct place, or a “cow” for each correct digit in the wrong place. And Wordle was even kind enough to tell you which of your letters were the “bulls” and the “cows”, rather than just giving you a simple count of each.

    I’ll open by saying I have seen some impressive mathematical work done with information theory. I went for more of an engineer’s approach: rather than calculate everything precisely, just try to keep the maximum possible accumulated error from any approximations too small to matter in real life, and always leave in the possibility to do something differently than how the computer suggests.

    So my first attempt at using a computer to help with Wordle involved filtering out all five-letter words with no apostrophes or capital letters from /usr/share/dict/british-english to make my “Wordle list; then making guesses and constructing a regular expression, based on the greenness, yellowness or blackness of each letter, to narrow down the list further. (I’m aware that to some, this will sound like a harder puzzle than Wordle …..) Using two opening guesses taken from the most commonly-occurring letters (such as SCONE and TRIAL) always seemed to bring it down to a manageable list of words.

    Then I discovered I needed to recreate my Wordle word list, this time based on /usr/share/dict/american-english …..

    I eventually refined the idea into a program which can rank suggestions based just on how many untried letters, which must actually be present among the possible words, each one contains. I knew this was not ideal, because it was not taking into account the “narrowing-down power” of each letter, but I figured I couldn’t even deal with that later unless I wrote some code. Even ignoring how many words each letter in a suggestion would eliminate from knowing whether it was in or out, it still seems to come up with an answer in 4 or 5 tries — and usually one fewer if I can spot a suggestion that would actually be better than what it ranked first by the very primitive measure. (I made it display the top 50 suggestions, on the basis of it not necessarily being anywhere near perfect.) The next measure I will look at will be, for each letter in each possible word, probability(green) * number of words eliminated from list if it is green + probability(yellow) * number of words eliminated from list if it is yellow + probability(black) * number of words eliminated from list if it is black. I’m always surprised by how little this sort of exhaustive search seems to slow it down …..

    I think the reason why the rough method works as well as it does is, the most likely result of any letter guessed is always going to be black; and if it’s already an uncommon letter, then it is bound to eliminate a lot of words. So the black term ought to dominate in the “eliminating power” figure anyway, with a few weird exceptions — this is pretty much in line with observations so far, though the sample size is small. And from then on, as with chimneys and bicycles, the rest of the laws of Nature are broadly in your favour …..

  17. Mano Singham says

    bluerizlagirl @#20,

    Wow, that is an impressive display of dedication to solving these puzzles. I am guessing the appeal of putting in all this work is the learning and applying of various techniques rather than getting the answer itself …

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