If you’re a regular Twitter user, you’ve likely seen many of your friends post grey, yellow and green blocks, and sometimes even a score out of six.
It’s not some sort of coded message, nor, but Wordle – the latest viral app sensation taking the world by storm.
Wordle was never intended to be this successful. Made by Brooklyn-based software Josh Wardle as a pandemic goof for him and his girlfriend to play, he then sent the game to his relatives to try. After gauging their reaction, Wardle released Wordle into the world in October.
While it started small with just 90 players in November, it is now played by more than 300,000 people worldwide – a stratospheric rise for a fairly simple word game.
Wordle, which can only be played once a day, consists of trying to guess a five letter word in six tries.
After each guess, the colour of the tiles will change to show you how close you are to the word.
Should the tile be green, the letter is in the word and is in the right position. If it’s yellow, it’s in the word but in the wrong position. If it’s grey, the letter is not in the word.
Huw started playing Wordle after seeing these colourful blocks flood Twitter. The 29-year-old editor often uses social media for work, and so was intrigued when an increasing number of people he followed started talking about Wordle.
‘It just sounded interesting,’ he tells Metro.co.uk. ‘And I like how Wordle was a play on Wardle.’
Despite not being someone who particularly excels at spotting words or unscrambling patterns (‘I’ve never been much good at Countdown,’ he says), Huw has enjoyed playing Wordle with his more puzzle-minded girlfriend, Sarah.
‘It’s a nice little thing to have a go at,’ he says. ‘The fact you can only play it once a day probably helps – you can’t overindulge and get bored of it.’
Of course, Wordle is not the first word-based puzzle we’ve become hooked on, and it certainly won’t be the last. Word searches, anagrams and crosswords are something we become well acquainted with from a young age, and often used in game shows and for light entertainment; ITV’s Lingo, with a similar premise to Wordle, is a popular teatime show, attracting 2.6 million regular viewers.
It’s not even the necessarily simplistic word puzzles that we enjoy teasing own brains with. According to a Buzzfeed article from 2014, over 200,000 people subscribe to the notoriously difficult New York Times crossword puzzle service.
So what is it about word games like Wordle that are so infinitely appealing to us?
Well, at their most basic level, they satisfy our brain’s reward system. When we solve a word puzzle like a daily Wordle, our brain gets a release of serotonin and dopamine.
‘When you “win” or complete a puzzle, you get a brain releases a rush of positive emotions,’ psychotherapist Sally Baker explains. ‘It’s a feelgood hormone release, which can actually be quite addictive.’
Wordle’s once-a-day puzzle only adds to that feeling of satisfaction, Baker adds.
‘When most things are available to us 24/7, having something that’s only available once a day is a novelty,’ she says. ‘It means people are looking forward to doing the next puzzle, and builds that anticipation.’
Word puzzles and brain teasers also help us concentrate, giving a moment of clarity in a world where we’re often over stimulated.
‘Puzzles do serve as a distraction method,’ Baker notes. ‘But unlike distracting ourselves with social media, it doesn’t happen below consciousness.
‘Focusing on a puzzle lets us cut out any other extraneous thoughts and just focus on one task.’
The ongoing uncertainty of the world over the last few years, and the constantly changing situations around us are no coincidence when it comes to Wordle’s sudden popularity.
Although a very small and fundamentally irrelevant part of your day, completing a Wordle puzzle – or any puzzle, for that matter – is a way for us to implement some remnant of order in a world that otherwise presents itself as chaotic.
‘Winning a puzzle, no matter how small, can give us a small sense of achievement and progress,’ Sally tells us. ‘Currently, everything feels out of our control and overwhelming.’
Burt overall, Baker believes Wordle’s popularity stems from word of mouth, achieving something even the most popular puzzles fail to.
She adds: ‘The fact that so many people are playing it makes us want to join in. It makes us feel part of something, and gives us a sense of connectivity many of us are craving.
‘With so many of us apart or being forced to work from home, an app like Wordle gives us that water cooler moment so many of us crave.
‘It’s nice to be momentarily rewarded and distracted from everything around us. It’s a way to briefly escape reality.’
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