On the 12th of January, 2022, I received a rather succinct, yet striking message: “Wordle. Have you played?”
No, I had not.
The query was sent by Filipino photographer Neal Oshima, with whom I share a liking for lexical puzzles: crosswords, cryptic crosswords, unscramblers, and the like. Knowing this, the game immediately piqued my interest and begged the question, What in the world is Wordle?
As it turns out, Wordle is the Internet's latest obsession, played by everyone from your well-read relative to The Tonight Show's Jimmy Fallon. A comically straightforward puzzle, the aim of the game is simple: guess the five-letter word of the day in six tries or less, the fewer the better. Yet, people cannot seem to get enough of it, fixated on cracking the code and sharing updates on social media.
“Wordle is the sourdough starter of Omicron,” tweeted one user.
First released to the digital public in October 2021, the game debuted with all but 90 players. By the 2nd of January, that number had skyrocketed to 300,000 players—and as of the 14th of January, Wordle now has two million regular players. The growth is phenomenal, especially considering it was never developed for commercial use: not an ad, nor a subscription fee or push notification in sight. In fact, software engineer Josh Wardle only created Wordle (yes, the play on Wardle was intentional) for his partner, Palak Shah.