# Wordle and cheating

I do the daily puzzle known as Wordle. For the three people in the country who have never heard of it, it consists of a hidden five letter word and one tries to guess the word in as few tries as possible, with a maximum set at six. After each guess, you get three kinds of feedback: a letter is highlighted green if it is the right letter in the right location; yellow if it is a letter that is used in the word but appears in the wrong location, and grey if the letter is not used at all. The puzzle is similar to the game Master Mind. The answer is from a list of 2309 common words but guesses allow from a pool of about 15,000 words (fewer than the average vocabulary which is estimated to be between 20,000-35,000 words), many of which can be quite obscure.

The puzzle is a little diversion during the day that takes about 10 minutes at the most. But it has attracted an enormous amount of interest and this article looks at the strategies that computers and expert players use to try and get the word in the least number of tries. Computers take an average of 3.41 tries to get the word while expert players average slightly less than four.

However, one aspect of Wordle is poorly designed and will need to be changed soon to avoid compromising the game. The problem is the way that solutions are picked. A well-designed system would pick a random word from the list, with an equal probability of any word being picked on any day. The Wordle answers, however, come from a predetermined list set in a fixed order. The current list will run out sometime in October 2027.

This means that once a word is used, it will not appear again for five years! So when the words “theme” and “thyme” came up within a few days of each other, players who were just missing the middle letter in TH_ME in the later Wordle knew exactly what the answer was. And if you keep track of which words have been used, the list of potential future solutions will shrink with every passing day.

What surprised me is that apparently some people cheat at it.

Wordle makes it easy to share and compare your scores with friends. It helps that the scores have an almost perfect correspondence to golf’s. Good human players can solve most Wordles in four tries, so four can be treated as par. Therefore, three is a birdie, two is an eagle and the miraculous one would be a hole-in-one. A very good human player would average a little below par over the long term, just like a very good golf player.

This ease of sharing makes for good group fun, but it can also lead to angst and envy. In a survey of Wordle users conducted by Solitaired, about 10% of Wordle players admitted to cheating, most of them doing so strategically once or twice a week. It is very easy to cheat — spoilers abound on the internet, and you can solve the day’s Wordle first on another device or in private mode. Given all this, it is quite possible that the actual incidence of cheating is even higher.

Why cheat at a game that you play by yourself? What is the fun in that? Surely the pleasure of such puzzles is what one gets by getting a low score using just your own ingenuity? I suppose that the desire to impress one’s friends is great enough to want to cheat, even if it is totally unearned.

For those who like these kinds of word puzzles, there is a similar game called Quordle where you have to guess four words in nine or fewer attempts, where each guess is applied to all four words so that you get feedback for each one.

1. anat says

My favorite is Octordle, with 8 parallel puzzles in 13 guesses, and it now has additional versions, the hardest of which is the ‘rescue’ games. In these you start with 4 guesses already given by the program, except they aren’t the kind of guesses one would pick if doing the puzzle strategically, so you only have 9 guesses left -- ie you can only make one mistake, and you start with way less information you would normally have at this point.

2. larpar says

I play Wordle. Today my starting word will be “cheat”. That’s my only strategy. I start with a word picked up from a blog or news article that has two vowels and no repeat letters. If “e” and “a” don’t fit, then my next guess will include two of I, O or U. I try to get the vowels first. My winning % is 87. My losses are usually with one letter left and multiple letters that would solve it and I pick the wrong letter. It’s nice to get the answer in a low number of guesses, but as long as I solve it, I’m happy.
After Wordle, I play the Spelling Bee. I keep going until I’m asked to subscribe then quit. I consider that a win. : )

3. Oggie: Mathom says

Why cheat at a game that you play by yourself? What is the fun in that?

I have watched somebody playing patience (I was at a forest fire at the time — 3:00am at a checkpoint so far in the middle of nowhere that there was no commercial radio reception and no phone service) and he kept cheating. I asked him why, and he said it was boring if he always lost.(1)

Sometimes I feel like I am cheating when I play Scrabble on my tablet. I misspell a word (ZOON rather than ZOOM) and discover that, in the Scrabble dictionary, it is an accepted alternate spelling of zoom. I have discovered a few other words that way and Wife has raised eyebrows and/or challenged some of them.

As to why people would cheat when playing against themselves, I suspect that one’s average score (being under par) is counted as bragging rights so cheating to decrease the score shows up the other people in the group.

(1) When I still went to fires, I joked that the deck of cards I carried would guarantee I never got lost. If I found myself temporarily misplaced, I could lay out a game of patience and, sure as eyeglass lenses get scratched, someone would appear over my shoulder and tell me that the black eight goes on the red nine.

4. larpar says

Update: Started with “cheat”, got it in four.

5. sonofrojblake says

Started playing when everyone else did. Worried that I wouldn’t know when to stop. Then in March I got it in one, and took that as my cue to retire. (heist, adorn, clump are my starters). Still play quordle against my best friend’s wife most days. It’s far superior I think.

6. Ridana says

I play Wordle, Quordle and a grid version called Waffle (https://wafflegame.net/). I tend to favor larpar’s solving strategies, including limited Spelling Bee. I gave up on Worldle, as my geographical memory is shit. I failed at Lewdle too, because apparently my smut vocabulary is too limited. Almost none of the words I tried were even acceptable as guesses.

I’ve also gotten hooked on Squaredle (https://squaredle.app/), a Boggle-type word finder.

7. kenbakermn says

I found another way to cheat. Play it first using one browser to get the answer, then bring up a different browser. Boom, Wordle in 1.

8. seachange says

If you are ‘sharing scores’ then you are by definition of the word sharing (a word that implies someone else is involved), you are not playing by yourself. If you start your essay about ‘how popular it is’, knowledge of popularity this is also something that you do not do by yourself and may be a motivation to play an otherwise silly seeming game.

If you are playing by yourself you are doing it to amuse yourself only. So if ‘cheating’ (a word that implies someone else is involved so ? ) on a solo game is something you find amusing, so what if you do?

9. brightmoon says

If I feel like thinking I do the Sudoku. If I don’t I’ll do the jigsaw puzzles on Jigidi. I’ve never done wordle.

10. EigenSprocketUK says

I play yesterday’s solution for my first guess. Can’t be doing with strategically clever first guesses; I’m starting with a definite wrong answer.
@Dave57 #5: seconded for Worldle.

11. John Morales says

Mmmm… I think it’s arguable whether it’s necessarily cheating, as such.
I mean, it is cheating under certain assumptions and criteria, but not under all possible assumptions and criteria. All subjective, at the end of the day.

I think seachange made a good point: “If you are playing by yourself you are doing it to amuse yourself only.”

Cheating at Solitaire? One can argue one is playing by one’s own rules.
Cheating at this game (I’ve never felt inclined to even try it)?
Well, if that’s how one extracts satisfaction from it, again: playing by one’s own rules.

I’m reminded of something a friend who has for many years worked at an university told me about his perception of many Chinese students: he thinks they feel they have succeeded if they submit their assignments and their answers are correct. They don’t see anything wrong with copying stuff or paying others to do it for them, what matters is that they got the right answers or met the goals of the assignment, in whatever manner.

And, after all, who is to say that’s not being successful? In real life, getting the answers right is more important than failing because one is not cheating.

(Consider the arguments for open-book tests vs open-book tests)

12. John Morales says

[sheesh! Open-book vs closed-book. Though I hope it was obvious to readers here]

13. Deepak Shetty says

My kids love to cheat at Wordle and then show me how they guessed it right at the first time.
In Wordle I tried the hard way (once you guess a alphabet all subsequent choices must use that , if you got the position right then all further guesses always must have that alphabet in the same position. In Quordle that was a losing strategy and so I always guess the same 3 words (my own) -- The Quordle pratice words seem to have a lot more obscure words then I have run into in Wordle.

@larpar@3

I try to get the vowels first.

I’ve found consonants help more but ymmv.

14. larpar says

Deepak Shetty @15