Ask any Wordle player at the 5Cs: your first move in the popular online game is the most crucial. It could make or break you, so choose wisely.
“First, you have to choose the starting word, which is a key component of the game,” Elsie Dank SC ’23 said. “I think that the most important thing is that it has at least two common vowels in it because you want to have as high a chance of getting something as you can.”
Some players use the same first word every day. Others cycle between a few trusty starting words. Ella Prigge PO ’25 has two favorites: “stake” and “audio.” Colin Kirkpatrick PO ’24 opts for “amend.”
“One day ‘amend’ will be the word, and once amend is the word I’m going to get it in one guess because that’s my starting word,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’m holding out hope because there are only so many five-letter words. It will happen one of these days.”
Wordle is a daily online word game created by Brooklyn-based software engineer Josh Wardle. Players have six attempts to guess a five-letter word, and tiles change color after each guess to guide players in future guesses. Black indicates that the respective letter is not in the word, yellow indicates right letter but wrong place and green indicates right letter, right place.
Wardle created the game for friends and family to play during the pandemic but opened it up to the public in October 2021. Four months later, millions of people play the game every day, and it was recently acquired by the New York Times to add to its suite of games.
Oscar Moralde, professor of media studies at Pomona, thinks the accessibility of Wordle has been the key to its wide appeal and runaway success. One aspect of this ease of access is Wordle’s existence as a website and not an app; players do not have to download anything or create an account.
“I would say one of the main reasons that it has had a surge of popularity is because of the low barrier to entry,” Moralde said. “Even something like Words with Friends (an app-based word game like Scrabble) requires you to download an app. But even doing that level of getting an app is certainly something not everyone is willing to do.”
All players around the world are trying to guess the same word each day. That standardization has helped Wordle become a collective phenomenon and inspired players to share guesses with each other. Many players at the 5Cs share their guesses with everyone from their parents to classmates. Prigge has a large group chat of friends in her dorm and surrounding dorms that discuss the Wordle every day.
“I love my group chat,” she said. “I’m really close with some of the people and others I’ve only talked to a few times. So it’s really funny because now it’s something that I am able to talk with them about that maybe I haven’t been able to before.”
Amanda Ward PZ ’25 was introduced to Wordle by her dad and shares her guesses with her family every day.
“I think one of the exciting parts about Wordle is that everyone has the same word,” she said. “So it’s a universal thing and then you can share it and have a competition with your friends and family, which makes it very appealing and keeps you in contact with people.”
Additionally, there is only one Wordle puzzle available per day, which allows it to be integrated into a player’s daily routine for only a very small time commitment. Some users compare it to a holiday — special precisely because of its scarcity. For some players, this scarcity also prolongs Wordle’s popularity by preventing burnout and waning interest.
“It’s a good interval because, if I could do more than one a day, I might do a lot at once and kind of decide I’m sick of it,” Kirkpatrick said. “So it’s the right interval where I feel like I can keep coming back to it and I’m getting just like a steady little trickle of something that keeps my brain happy and I can never get too much of it at once.”
In an era where sensory overload is almost an accepted facet of most games, Wordle is refreshingly simple: no ads, no pop-ups, nothing flashing on the screen, no bright colors. This nostalgia for a return to a simpler Internet — a simpler gaming landscape — is a big part of the critical discourse surrounding Wordle and its popularity.
“In terms of a scholarly or critical perspective, one of the things that came up was that this seemed to be kind of harkening back to an older era of the Internet, where everything’s just living on web pages,” Moralde said. “People are free to kind of engage with it. It’s not behind paywalls. It’s not restricted to specific apps.”
Dank is also drawn to this simplicity.
“It really does feel like just doing the newspaper crossword or something,” she said. “Like the website is literally just, ‘you can play the game one time a day.’ That’s it.”
This nostalgia for a bygone era of minimalism, a cultural desire for a return to simplicity, demonstrates to Moralde the continued potential of games to inspire discourse and creativity.
“It speaks to the ways in which the popular imagination of what games are is always shifting,” he said. “In this era, games are often defined by being super expensive, highly technical, developed by enthusiasts to be played on the latest hardware. The fact that something that is very, very simple is the thing that has caught a lot of people’s eye speaks to the ways in which games continue to be this kind of wide open space for people to explore and create.”