A View from the Hill: Wordle state of mind

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It is 10:12 a.m. on Thursday, May 26, 2022, and I have just entered my first of six allowed five-letter word guesses in The New York Times game of Wordle on my iPad.

STAGE.

I have never before used this word as my opening salvo in this popular game that you may have never heard of if you are busy doing more productive things, as you should be. So I’m running through today’s game so you know what’s what.

Andrew MarstersI chose STAGE  because it has some common vowels and consonants in it.

When I hit enter the S, T, A, and E boxes turned yellow. That tells me that they are all in the word I am trying to guess but are in the wrong place. The G square turns gray, which means G is not in the word.

So I move on to the second try, entering, again, for no particular reason, TASER. S and E are green. T and A remain yellow. R is gray. This is going pretty well, though already not as well as my brother, who got it on the second try today. I know this because we share our results every day in an email chain.

Now I’m going to try something that I consider hazardous: Using the same letter twice in a word. Yes, there are many words that contain the same letter twice or even three times, but I’m talking about the same letters together. It just doesn’t seem like something the puzzle editors at the Times would do.

But I’m feeling frisky.

ASSET.

All six boxes in the row turn green. I got it in three tries and it’s only 10:26 a.m.

I’ve played Wordle with grandchildren from ages 6 to 18. I’ve noticed that kids are particularly good and can trounce me, a former college English teacher. Once I let Frankie, who is 10, guess the first word. A few seconds later, in just two tries, we were done. 

I believe there are several factors that account for the skill of younger players.

They aren’t cynical yet, so thoughts such as “The New York Times would never use that word” or “don’t be stupid” don’t enter their little heads.

They are willing to create word salads that may or may not be words (Wordle will only accept real words.) So if they enter SNQTE they haven’t gotten anywhere, but it hasn’t cost them anything either. Make enough word salads and eventually, you’ll get a word, even if you don’t know what it means. 

In other words, they get lucky.

Or clever.

When a friend’s 7-year-old granddaughter decided to start the game with HINGE, which turned out to be the word of the day, grandma suggested she might have overheard it somewhere.

But the grandkid confirmed my theories when asked why kids are so good at it. “They know more words,” she said. “They’re more, like, creative with them. And adults are more like, ‘That won’t work.’ But it actually does work.”

This brings up another benefit: Bringing generations closer together. It’s a great equalizer.

Wordle works for teachers too. The game has found its way into many elementary school classrooms. National Geographic magazine praised Wordle as a learning tool. Not only does it immerse them in the world of words, but it boosts spelling skills. And the priggish Times doesn’t allow even vaguely naughty words, so parents and teachers don’t have to worry.

Not that I’ve ever tested it.

There are scores of Wordle knockoffs online that are supposedly easier for children. In my experience, they don’t need them.

I do.

But even when I lose big, as in blowing all six chances, which I’ve done three times, I’m always back at it early the next morning. It’s a fun way to start the day, even when it’s frustrating.

And as a Chicago Tribune columnist wrote, “Fun is a key word here. Wordle is a game, after all. The topic deserves about as much attention as a doll or toy car. There are more serious issues in the world today, after all.”

For sure.

This is why, for 14 delicious minutes today, I was able to ignore all those serious issues and play with words.

Andrew Marsters is an award-winning Maine journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.