Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock (or are smart enough to stay off Twitter), chances are that you’ve come across a five-letter word puzzle that’s gone viral over the last few weeks.

Josh Wardle’s similarly-named brainchild Wordle is a word game that pairs a simple, elegant UI with a daily puzzle that’s easy enough to solve, but hard enough to stay engaging. Ever since December 2021, the Brooklyn-based British software developer has risen in popularity thanks to his game. But why and how did Wordle become so successful, and so soon?

Wordle’s story is a charming one of an impressively prolific developer’s invention, his fascinating insights into the world of contemporary software, and his adorable mission to bring a smile to his wife’s face.

From Wardle to Wordle

Several news organizations have described the puzzle as something of a social experiment, and perhaps they’re not that far off.

After gaining degrees in Media/Digital Arts in London and Oregon, USA, Wardle went on to work for companies such as Pinterest and Reddit; the latter of which was the staging ground for two popular social experiments named ‘The Button’ and ‘Place’.

The Button was a 2015 Reddit game that consisted of a 60-second countdown, which would reset every time the user pressed a button. It was clicked 1,008,316 times until the timer reached zero.

Place was a much more exciting phenomenon that drew in millions of people from all over the world. In 2017, Wardle created a 1000×1000 pixel canvas, where users could choose from 16 colors and collectively draw, one pixel at a time. The result was an incredible explosion of memes, messages, inside jokes, and even a Mona Lisa portrait, creating a one-of-a-kind art piece that drew the attention of internet pranksters and serious academicians alike:

After this, Wardle went on to work at Pinterest before returning to Reddit, and stayed relatively under the radar —until October 2021.

How Does Wordle Work?

Its origins are surprisingly simple and wholesome—and it all began with crosswords and Wardle’s partner, Palak Shah.

“I wanted to try making a game that she and I would enjoy playing together,” he shared with Slate. “Wordle was a result of that. I’d actually created a prototype of it back in 2013, and the mechanics were the same.”

The game is incredibly easy to play, and all you need to do is access this website.

Each day, the game picks one 5-letter word in American English. Your job is to guess the word in six tries; every time you pick the right letter in the right location, it stays highlighted in green. A yellow highlight refers to a letter in the right word, but not in the right position within said word. A grey highlight means that the letter is not part of the right word.

It’s so simple; I managed to solve puzzle #222 while writing up the previous paragraph. It took me five tries though, so not too impressive!

Hint: Try using vowels first. They’re more common than most other letters.

How Did Wordle Get So Popular?

Every time you successfully guess the Wordle for the day, you get the option to share your results. The website allows you to copy a grid-based result for you to share, which in my case for today, looks something like this:

Wordle 222 5/6






Neat, huh? Amusingly enough, this idea is suspected to be at the heart of the game’s newfound fame but it isn’t actually Wardle’s to begin with.

“For some reason that I don’t fully understand,” explains Wardle, “ the game got big in New Zealand, and New Zealand Twitter was playing a lot of the game, and someone out there who I don’t know—she’s called Elizabeth S, and I only know her on Twitter—came up with the emoji grid as a spoiler-free way of sharing her results with other people.”

The creator realized that coding the grid system into his game was fairly easy, and the result is the ocean of green, yellow, and grey blocks spreading all over Twitter. To the creator’s credit, the system is as link-free and non-commercial as possible – making it even more engaging and fun.

Others suggest that Wordle’s one-puzzle-per-day limit makes it more engaging and likeable, adding a bit of newspaper-crossword novelty to every successful guess. It’s so popular, in fact, that it has spawned new offshoots already, with Sweardle and Queerdle making their own thematic variations. There’s even the hilariously satirical Letterdle, where you have 26 chances to guess a single letter down to the T (pun intended).

While its success is undeniable, the game isn’t a 100 percent perfect. Some British players have criticized it for sticking to American English; when the word ‘favor’ went live, British English speakers couldn’t make the guess, as their spelling had an extra ‘u’ tacked on.

Despite his own British heritage, Wardle shrugs it off. “I’m making the game for her,” he reminds us, referring to his wife. “I was chatting with her this morning actually about, “How do you feel about the ‘favor’ thing?” And she was like, “I’m American. You made the game for me.”

Aww. All you guys in relationships, note this stuff down. Novelty and originality are important.

That said, despite his word-game fame and amusement at the game, Wardle is worried about the future. While he has filtered most of the words down, he also wants to play the game himself, and has no idea of what random word will tease our brains with each new day.

“I live in fear that tomorrow is going to be something heinous and it’s going to really upset someone, or maybe a really bad word, or just an obscure word, slipped through the filtering somehow.”

Fortunately, with over 11,000 5-letter words in the English language, it’ll probably take a while until we find something obscene. Fingers crossed.