Popular, addicting puzzle game Wordle purchased by The New York Times


Morgan Taylor / Hilltop Views

Wordle launched in 2021, and has since become hugely popular. The New York Times bought the game to place as part of their subscription to The New Yorks Times Games app.

If you’ve scrolled through Twitter during the past month or so, you may have seen a few cryptic tweets filled with gray, yellow and green squares. On Tiktok, a video of a linguist telling you to start using “irate” may have shown up on your “For You” page. 

These users are talking about Wordle, an online word puzzle that’s become the latest viral trend. The game is now so popular that The New York Times bought it from its creator for a price “in the low-seven figures.

What is Wordle?

Wordle is a simple game where the player is given six opportunities to guess the correct five-letter word. If the square that the letter is in turns yellow, it means that the letter is in the word but in the incorrect place. A green square indicates that the letter is in the correct place, and a gray square means the letter is not present.

The player is not given any hints at the beginning of each game to guide their guesses. All they have is a six-by-five grid of squares and their own vocabulary

Wordle was created by software engineer Josh Wardle as a gift for his partner over quarantine. Wardle launched the game to the public in October 2021. The game exploded in popularity, garnering 300,000 players at the beginning of January, according to The New York Times.

“I think Wordle is so popular because it’s only available once a day, so there’s a limited time commitment,” Amy Clements, a professor of writing and rhetoric at St. Edward’s University, said. “I also think the level of difficulty is just right for millions of people.”

The addition of the built-in sharing feature helped the game rise from obscurity to viral phenomena, according to Adam Rosenberg at Mashable. When users click the share button, it generates a collage of gray, yellow and green square emojis to represent the player’s guesses.

“The people who want to share, who want to make a community, can do so easily,” Clements said. “You play independently, but you can easily share your results.”

Since mid-December, a dedicated fanbase has formed to share their scores, discuss strategies and create memes about the whole thing.

Why would The New York Times want Wordle?

Though The New York Times said that Wordle will “initially remain free to new and existing players,” many are worried the publication will remove part of what made the game so charming: its lack of ads or subscription fees. 

“I hope they don’t put Wordle behind a paywall for awhile,” one commenter said. “I’m a Times subscriber but the fun of Wordle was how accessible it is to everyone. RIP Wordle.”

“I hope they keep it free like their Spelling Bee (game),” Clements said. “But I predict they’ll use it to get people to pay.”

As of December of last year, The New York Times Games app has over one million paid subscribers. “The Times remains focused on becoming the essential subscription for every English-speaking person seeking to understand and engage with the world,” the publication said. “New York Times Games are a key part of that strategy.”

“Selling puzzle subscriptions has helped subsidize excellent journalism at The New York Times,” Clements said. 

Much “adieu” about starting words.

As mentioned above, a subset of the Wordle community has dedicated themselves to finding the perfect first word (or words) to use every day. Popular picks include “adieu,” because it includes four of the five vowels in English; “irate,” because it includes three vowels and two of the most common consonants and “later,” which was discovered by a Tiktok user using a programming script.

Clements told me her favorite starting word is “plane,” followed by “sound,” but that she sometimes uses different words based on how she’s feeling when she plays.

“I love airplanes. I live in a flight path, so I can look out my window and see the planes fly by,” Clements said.

In a mobile gaming market dominated by in-app purchases, subscription fees and downloads, Wordle has been a refreshing, much-needed puzzle game for many. With its acquisition by The New York Times, hopefully the game will continue to challenge players for years to come.