In a cynical world, Wordle is a bastion of hope. A free game created by Josh Wardle for personal use and then shared with a wider world (albeit one he ended up selling to The New York Times). This leaves only one question for any true player: how do I win at Wordle?
Wordle: what are the rules?
First you need to know the rules. You have six guesses to discover the five-letter word of the day. Letters can be used more than once. And the website (there isn’t an app) will tell you whether you’ve got any letters in exactly the right place (they go green), the letters right but in the wrong place (yellowy gold) or totally wrong (grey).
It’s brilliantly simple. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use tactics to help you.
Wordle and letter frequency
As in so many word games, a basic understanding of letter frequency is your friend. Here, we call upon the brilliant Wolfram Alpha to create a word cloud of letters used in English:
Or, according to the University of Notre Dame, it goes in this order:
Top 10: E-A-R-I-O-T-N-S-L-C (E is 11%, C is 4.5%)
Next 8: U-D-P-M-H-G-B-F (U is 3.6%, F is 1.8%)
Final 8: Y-W-K-V-X-Z-J-Q (Y is 1.8%, Q is 0.2%)
So, a guess such as IRATE will cover five out of the top six letters, making it a fine opening gambit. Here’s how that looked in yesterday’s puzzle:
So, now I know that E is in the right place, R is in there but not the second letter, and I-A-T aren’t in yesterday’s puzzle.
However, as @daveludlow pointed out to me on Twitter, TEARS is a solid alternative. And it may be a better choice, due to the first-letter frequency tactic…
First letter frequency
All this is good, but it helps to know which letters are commonly used where. Wolfram is our friend once more, as it offers a tool that can analyse the frequency of first letters:
As can be seen, that’s a different set of letters entirely. Based on that, S-C-P-D-B would all be decent contenders to be the first letter of my next guess.
Some common mistakes
Before I rush in with guess number two, though, it pays to find out what mistakes people make. “Don’t forget that the same letter can appear in a word more than once,” @nikrawlinson told me via Twitter.
Michael Dear offered this sage advice: “Try not to give in and put a known incorrect letter lower down”. A point echoed by @Lisekit, who describes this as “an easy trap to fall into. I think the mind, faced with a grid, can start playing ‘change one letter’ instead of trying a new set of letters.”
So, based on all this knowledge, I decided that I’d use O and G in my second guess. I could have repeated E and R (don’t forget that letters can appear more than once), but at this still early stage I wanted to eliminate other letters too. I decided ROGUE made a decent choice, as then I would have used all the vowels.
Not a bad result. It now seems quite likely that O and E are the only vowels in the word, and that they’re probably used once. But hang on, there’s more.
Common word endings
English is a language of patterns, with many common word endings. In this case, —GE makes a lot of sense. —RE occurs too, but that would mean our other choices are GO-RE and -OGRE, neither of which creates a word.
That means our word almost certainly ends in -ORGE. So, really that only leaves FORGE, surely. Here we go:
Aha, but no! I’ve fallen into the trap of forgetting about double letters, so G could have been used twice. And indeed that’s the only English word I can think of that still works.
There is much more that can be said about word endings, because they’re one of the best clues you have. For example, if you have an amber A then it’s incredibly unlikely that the word ends with it (with rare exceptions, such as EXTRA). By ruling this out, it may become obvious where the A goes.
How to win at Wordle: more hard-earned tips
Since writing this article at the start of January, I’ve learned a few more things about the game… think of it as me making mistakes on your behalf.
Don’t forget about Y: Many words end in Y, and it sits in that no man’s land between consonants and vowels. If you’re stuck on a word, give it a try.
Take your time: There’s no rush! In fact, one of the things I love about Wordle is that there is no time limit. Make a cup of coffee, stare at the screen for five minutes, do some breathing exercises, walk the dog. I find Wordle relaxes me if I allow myself to take time.
Use the X: When I’m stuck, I often end up putting an X to act as a blank (for example, T X G X R if I have T, G and R). This often leads to a eureka moment.
Remember American spellings: Wardle made this game for his American wife and it uses an American dictionary. Don’t be surprised if it uses American spellings!
You know more than you think: Wordle is often more of a logic puzzle than a word game. A mix of things you do know and don’t know, which you can mix together to make conclusions. On the other hand, don’t be over-confident, which leads to my next item…
Don’t blindly guess: I’ve failed at Wordle twice, and both times it’s because I ended up using turns to blindly guess words. For example, if after three rounds you have – – D E R (so you know the final three letters are DER) then you might guess WADER. But there are many words that could fit that pattern, so you’re better off ruling out some letters.
For example, CIDER, FADER and UNDER all fit. If you guessed WADER then that still means I and A are possible letters, and you only have two guesses left by this point. You’re better off finding a five-letter word that uses at least two of the vowels to maximise your chances.
How to win at Wordle: your tips
Perhaps you have more tips on how to win at Wordle? Let us know via the comments below if so. And good luck!