For a long time, I have done a daily crossword, never in ink, because even though I love words, there are too many words I just don’t know, and too many other words I know that would never appear in a crossword. I can finish most of the online versions, even if I have to have a hint or two, and they are my go to’s for a long car ride.
I played Words with Friends on the regular. Now some of those friends aren’t friends anymore. Sorry I wasn’t a better competitor, Mom.
I don’t mind an occasional word find, word scramble, or even a Jumble. My paternal grandfather was a serious crossword man and would never have messed with these others. I can still visualize his ball point pen scratchings on the soft newspaper finish as he doggedly completed the New York Times crossword puzzle.
I held off on the latest word challenge, Wordle, until I finally succumbed to peer pressure. Or perhaps competitive pressure. I needed to see if I could compete with my word savvy friends, who were posting their daily results and sharing their methods for success.
The five letter fill-in-the-blank to make the word game has made a huge splash. People of all ages are playing on phones and tablets everywhere. I was in a Zoom meeting the other day where a participant inadvertently screen-shared, and her Wordle efforts were on display for all of us to see.
My first couple of days of Wordle were spent testing out starting words, remembering that Y can be a vowel, and trying to access my mental word bank of five letter words. Then one golden day, I made a correct guess on the second word. I was hooked.
Only since then, now about three months into my Wordle history, I have only pegged the word on the second guess one other time. Some days, I am right down to the wire, sneaking in a guess on my 5th or 6th try.
And in the meantime, my friends are posting their 2’s and 3’s to all the accolades. I have lots of smart friends, according to Wordle, one of whom I had lunch with this week.
We talked about our families, caught up on mutual friends, and confirmed that we both hate Vladimir Putin, all before our meals came. While we were eating, she got a notification that her daughter had beaten her on Wordle that day. She wasn’t happy.
“ I think she is cheating.”
She spat the words out in a harsh whisper, fire in her eyes.
“How would you cheat at that?” I asked. “Aren’t there just five blanks and a keyboard?”
My friend, a notorious night owl, says she always completes her Wordle right after midnight, when the day’s game first opens. Her daughter waits until her lunch break.
“I think she is looking at other people’s answers,” my friend whined. “But if she needs the satisfaction of beating me at Wordle, that’s okay.” Somehow, I think it isn’t.
No stranger to competition, both its power and its problems, I feel my friend’s frustration deeply. On a recent trip to the beach, my husband had finished his book and was phone scrolling.
“What’s that word game you have been playing?” he asked, over the top of his reading glasses with only one earpiece, because apparently we are so impoverished we cannot afford the multipack from Costco or even a single replacement pair.
I helped him download Wordle, and honestly not just because I wanted him to enjoy it. Selfishly, I hoped I could at least beat him at the game.
We did a couple of practice ones, looking at the green, yellow, and gray letters, and he was off to the races. On his first real Wordle, he worked until the 5th level to get his answer. In person, I patted him on the back and congratulated him.
“It takes a while to master it,“ I said.
But in the revelatory cartoon bubble above my head and deep in my heart, I gloated and began to dream of how I would beat him like an old rug from granny’s porch.
On day two, he made progress and hit a 4. “Fluke,” I thought, which is not by coincidence, a five letter word.
On day three, he said “Hmmm,” after his first line entry and then quickly punched in his next answer and smiled. He hit it on two.
“That was an easy one, wasn’t it?” he said, and I nodded. Not for me, it hadn’t been. It took me four levels and some luck.
I wish I could say that his streak was a short one, where his two was interspersed with plenty of fives and sixes, but apparently he is a Wordle savant. In his first three weeks, he averaged a two.
I asked him about his strategy. He didn’t comprehend.
“Well, like I always start with this word,” I said, typing it out to show him, “and then I enter this one next because it gets me lots of consonants.”
“Huh,” he said. “Never thought of it like that. I just look at the blanks and try to figure out what to put in them.”
Well, duh… that’s the whole point. Upon further questioning, I determined that his method is just to sit and stare at the screen and hope letters materialize in front of him. Thus far it appears to be working. I have booked his appearance on Wheel of Fortune just in case.