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What is Wordle? Rules, strategy and everything you need to know

It's now over a year since Wordle exploded onto our phones as the biggest puzzle phenomenon since, well, ever. In that time, it has garnered millions of daily players, inspired countless headlines, been bought by the New York Times, and endured multiple controversies.

So, what is Wordle as we enter 2023? Is it still a fun way to spend a few minutes, or something much bigger? 

We'll attempt to answer that below, as well as explaining what the Wordle rules are, what makes the best Wordle start words, what WordleBot is, and much more.

What is Wordle?: The basics

What is Wordle?

Wordle is a simple game in which you have to guess a new five-letter word each day. You get six guesses, learning a little more information with each guess, and eventually narrow your guesses down to find the answer. Or at least that's the theory – because while it is a simple game at heart, it's sometimes surprisingly tricky to find the solution. More on that below.

It's played online via the Wordle website or the New York Times' Crossword app (iOS / Android), and is entirely free – though you can pay to access the NYT's WordleBot helper tool. There's also been speculation that the game itself will eventually go behind a paywall, but so far the NYT has resisted the urge to scratch that potentially lucrative itch.

Crucially, the answer is the same for everyone each day, meaning that you're competing against the rest of the world, rather than just against yourself or the game. The puzzle then resets each day at midnight in your local time, giving you a new challenge, and the chance to extend your streak.

Ah yes, streaks…

Today's Wordle answer on a black background

(Image credit: TechRadar / NY Times)

What are Wordle streaks?

Wordle tracks your games via the browser or app, and gives you a running score of your wins and losses. Each time you win, you'll be extending your Wordle streak. 

Lose a game and your streak resets to zero, of course. What's more, if you miss a day, your streak also resets – so if you won 100 games straight, then missed a day, then won your next game, you'd have a streak of 1, not 101. Unfair? Maybe – but it certainly keeps you playing.

One potential issue here is if you're traveling. Some people have lost their streak through playing in another time zone, so be careful out there.

Why is it important? Well, avid Wordlers get very protective of their streaks. It's a badge of honor or a sign of commitment – and something to brag about if you're that way inclined. 

Wordle stats showing the streak and win percentage, on a green background

(Image credit: NYT)

What are the Wordle rules?

The rules of Wordle are pretty straightforward, but with a couple of curveballs thrown in for good measure.

1. Letters that are in the answer and in the right place turn green.

2. Letters that are in the answer but in the wrong place turn yellow. 

3. Letters that are not in the answer turn gray.

4. Answers are never plural.

5. Letters can appear more than once. So if your guess includes two of one letter, they may both turn yellow, both turn green, or one could be yellow and the other green.

6. Each guess must be a valid word in Wordle's dictionary. You can't guess ABCDE, for instance.

7. You do not have to include correct letters in subsequent guesses unless you play on Hard mode.

8. You have six guesses to solve the Wordle.

9. You must complete the daily Wordle before midnight in your timezone.

10. All answers are drawn from Wordle's list of 2,309 solutions. However…

11. Wordle will accept a wider pool of words as guesses – some 10,000 of them. For instance, you can guess a plural such as WORDS. It definitely won't be right (see point 4 above), but Wordle will accept it as a guess.

12. You must guard your streak like a dog guards a bone.

What are all those funny yellow and green squares on Twitter?

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past year, you'll have come across grids of yellow and green squares on your social media platform of choice. These are Wordle results, and they're really quite clever.

Because everyone plays the same game, you can't simply share the answer on social media without spoiling everyone else's fun. So instead, the Share button creates a spoiler-free overview of how your game went, without actually revealing the letters you used. The result: you can dazzle people with your linguistic brilliance without giving the answer away.

Of course if you know someone else's start word, the Wordle grid may still give you some pretty hefty clues - so for the ultimate challenge you'll still want to stay off Twitter and other platforms until you've completed the day's puzzle. 

Do you need an account to play Wordle?

Not really - but you might want one anyway. Wordle tracks your progress through your web browser, so it'll retain your stats so long as you don't clear your cache. If you do that, you might find your streak and wins percentages reset to zero. 

That reliance on the cache also means that if you play Wordle in one browser on your laptop (Chrome, say) then use a different one on your phone (maybe Safari), your progress won't be stored. 

The solution is to create a free NYT account. This will store your stats across devices and browsers, theoretically keeping your streak safe wherever you play. Although the note above about different time zones still applies.

What is Wordle Hard mode?

Wordle Hard mode doesn't make the answer any more difficult, but it does make it harder to find. Here's how it works.

In Wordle Hard mode, any letters that you uncover have to be used in all subsequent guesses. For instance, if you guess TODAY and the T turns yellow, you have to include a T in your next guess. And if a letter turns green, you have to include it in the correct position in your next guess. 

This can be a major problem in some games. One famous example (among Wordlers at least) was game #265, where the answer was WATCH. On Hard mode, once you had the -ATCH part uncovered in green, you would be forced to keep them in place for your other guesses. But with PATCH, LATCH, BATCH, MATCH, CATCH, HATCH and WATCH all being potential answers, you would have to get lucky with a guess; there are simply too many possibilities.

On normal mode, you could instead guess a word such as CHAMP. You'd know it wasn't right, but it would rule out (or in) four possible answers in one go: CATCH, HATCH, MATCH and PATCH.

Some people – myself included – think that Wordle Hard mode is a bit silly. My reasoning is that rather than making the game harder as such, it simply increases the role that luck plays. Then again, maybe I'm just a coward.

Wordle 265

(Image credit: Future)

Who made Wordle?

Wordle was created by Josh Wardle, a British software engineer based in Brooklyn. He's no stranger to developing internet sensations either, having previously come up with the brilliant Reddit projects The Button and Place.  

Wardle – who named the game after himself, obviously – created Wordle for his puzzle-loving partner. He'd created a prototype as long ago as 2013, but it wasn't until the pandemic that he completed the game we now know and love, and shared it with his family and a few friends. 

Unleashed onto the wider internet in October 2021, it exploded in popularity over the next couple of months, growing from a handful of users to several hundred thousand by early January, and to more than two million by the end of that month.

Impressed by its success, The New York Times bought Wordle for a "six-figure sum" in February 2022. Not bad for a lockdown project, eh?

What is WordleBot?

WordleBot is a digital tool built by the NYT to help players master Wordle. It analyses your most recent game, giving you pointers when you screw up and (occasionally) offering praise when you do something clever. 

Think of it as a kind of Wordle coach and you won't be far wrong. While it won't give you the answer (you can only use it once you've finished your daily game) it will suggest start words to try, and will provide you with strategies that might help in the future.  

As well as rating your game, WordleBot is packed with data that you might find interesting. For instance, it will tell you what the average score is per game across everyone who plays, and what the most popular start words are on a given day.

Unfortunately, it's no longer free: the NYT put WordleBot behind a paywall last year, shortly after it launched. You can access it with a New York Times All Access subscription, which currently costs $1.25/week for the first year, then $6.25/week thereafter. 

Wordle Bot

(Image credit: Future)

Is Wordle still worth playing in 2023?

Undoubtedly! The New York Times purchase didn't get off to the best start, with some people losing their streaks in the handover, and many players convinced that the NYT immediately made it harder. It didn't, though: Wordle's answers were hard-coded into the game when Josh Wardle created it, with a different one assigned to each date. Though the NYT removed a few controversial words, and changed the order of a couple, it's essentially the exact same game that launched in 2021.

In fact, the NYT's influence has mainly been positive. The addition of a free account option gives players a way to save their progress across devices and makes it far less likely that streaks will be lost. It remains free to play and mostly free of ads. Yes, you can pay for WordleBot and yes, you will be pushed towards trying other NYT games such as Spelling Bee, but overall Wordle seems to be in safe hands.

Beyond the NYT takeover, Wordle continues to provide millions of people with a fun five-minute breather from the hectic pace of daily life. The numbers playing it may have declined slightly, but as our US Editor in Chief, Lance Ulanoff, wrote late last year, Wordle is steadily becoming an institution, a daily ritual that many people enjoy simply for the connection it gives them to family and friends.

If you've been playing for a while you'll know all that of course; and if not, there's no reason why you can't start today.   

Wordle strategy

Wordle start words


(Image credit: New York Times)

Start words are a crucial part of the Wordle experience, and choosing the right one can be the difference between scoring an excellent 2/6 or a hair-raising 6/6.

A vast amount has been written on the subject of what the best start words are, with mathematicians, data scientists, and other smart people weighing in on the subject at great length.

WordleBot's favored choice right now is SLATE, although it used to be CRANE. It awards both a 99 skill rating (its top mark), but SLANT, TRACE, CARTE and CRATE all earn the same score.

Other sources have suggested the likes of SOARE, ROATE and RAISE, while some people prefer to play a start word with lots of vowels such as ADIEU, AUDIO or OUIJA.

Whichever you pick, your start word is vital, pointing you in the direction of the answer, and ruling out hundreds or even thousands or potential solutions in one go. With that in mind, I suggest you check out our best Wordle start words guide as soon as you can.

Wordle tips and tricks

Wordle win

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Playing Wordle is easy, but mastering Wordle is hard. We've got a separate guide to how to win at Wordle, but here are a few things to bear in mind: 

1. Play vowels early 

Vowels help to define the sound and structure of a word, so you'll want to identify them as early as possible. You should probably include at least two in your start word – probably A and E, as they are by far the most common. Depending on what happens on that first go, you'll then want to rule out O and I soon after; U is less common. Don't forget Y, either – it sometimes acts as a vowel, for instance in words such as GLYPH or NYMPH, which don't contain any of the standard five vowels.

2. Play common consonants early

This is pretty obvious too, but there's far more chance that the answer will contain a T, R or L than an X, Z or Q. Use the most common letters early and you'll have a better chance of success. 

3. Don't repeat a letter until you need to

Repeat letters do crop up in Wordle pretty often – think the double-O in BLOOD or FLOOD, or the double L in SKILL or SHALL. They don't always go together, either – PIXIE, which was the answer a few days ago (game #569) has two Is, and BELIE (#566) has two Es. That said, you probably want to hold off on including a repeat letter until you have a good idea that there is one. Wordle is all about information really, and guessing as many new letters as possible will generally give you more of it than repeating one of them.

4. Don't rush!

Sometimes you'll think you know what the answer is on the second guess and triumphantly play it… only to find that you'd forgotten another 10 possibilities, and are now staring down the barrel of a 4/6 score or worse. Take your time. Think through the options. Even use a notepad if it helps. (Or don't bother with all that and just play as you wish, it's your life!)

Can you cheat at Wordle?

Yes, you can cheat at Wordle. But really, you'll be cheating yourself. Come on, it's word game that takes about five minutes to play - is it really worth losing all your self-respect over that?

Assuming your answer to that is "yes," then there are a few obvious ways to cheat at Wordle and ensure you keep your streak even if it's teetering on the edge. Our Wordle cheats article goes into detail on the main methods, but in short: 

  1. Play in incognito mode. Your browser won't update, so you can play and lose repeatedly until you get the answer right, then switch to your actual account and score a 1/6.
  2. Use a crossword solver. These can give you options for the letters you have and help you narrow down the possibilities ahead of your guess. No more wracking your brains for a five-letter word that starts with C, ends with T and has an A in the middle.

Wordle alternatives

Screenshot of wordle clone squabble

Squabble, one of the many games like Wordle (Image credit: Future)

The success of Wordle spawned literally hundreds of Wordle alternatives and clones, ranging from straight-up rip-offs to super-smart variations that brought something new to the party.

Most share the key Wordle characteristics such as

  • Single daily challenge
  • Limited number of guesses
  • Information revealed slowly as the game progresses
  • Spoiler-free social sharing
  • Free online play

Those basics aside, many of the games don't have much in common at all, so which ones you play will depend on your own interests. Here are a few of our favorites:

1. Heardle (like Wordle but for music)

2. Lewdle (like Wordle but rude)

3. Taylordle (like Wordle but for Taylor Swift fans)

4. Semantle (like Wordle but for meanings not spellings)

5. Scholardle (like Wordle but with really obscure words)

There are also geography-themed versions, math-themed versions, soccer-themed versions, Marvel-themed versions, movie-themed versions, and many more. We're also big fans of the x-Wordles-at-once clones, such as Duordle, Quordle and Octordle, and the battle royale-style Squabble. We've rounded up some of our favorites in our games like Wordle feature.

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