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.