Fire up those neural pathways - there’s a new game in town - Wordle

Michelle O'Driscoll tells us about a new word game that has taken the world by storm - Wordle
Fire up those neural pathways - there’s a new game in town - Wordle

The word game Wordle has taken the world by storm. Picture: Stock

THE first I heard of Wordle was when somebody posted what looked like a grid on their social media feed; 5 across, six down, a mix of grey, yellow and green squares.

Have you stumbled upon it?

Curiosity got the better of me and I googled it to find out more. Turns out it’s a word game that has taken the online world by storm, with hundreds of thousands playing it in just a few short months.

If Hangman and Mastermind had a baby, Wordle would be its name. Two classic games merged to create a new twist.

I have fond memories of playing Mastermind as a child. Our cousins had the boardgame complete with brightly coloured pegs. One person sets a ‘code’ of four colours in a particular order, which is hidden from their opponent. A limited number of opportunities are given to guess the code. After each guess is placed, it is revealed how many colours are correct, and how many are in the correct position. We loved playing against one another, becoming frustrated at the elusive colour codes chosen, and laughing when somebody got lucky and guessed it in one.

Hangman was something we played in the backs of our copybooks in second and third class, sneakily killing time whilst the teacher was busy elsewhere. Many a wet lunchtime this passed for us as kids.

Scrawly scribbles of stick men with one hand or leg before the word or phrase was guessed. The number of letters was represented by dashes, and whenever a correct letter was guessed it was written into the dash in question. Otherwise, a piece was added to the stick man and his noose. This was repeated until either the word was guessed, or the hangman was complete.

Wordle is the guessing of a word but without the stickman, using the Mastermind-style hints of how many letters are correctly positioned.

Turns out the grey squares on the grid means a letter is not correct, yellow means correct but in the wrong spot, and green means you’ve nailed it. Five green squares in a row is the goal, to have guessed correctly the five letter word. Except with just six guess opportunities provided, it’s a challenge to complete. Wordle is a game of strategy, process and a little bit of old fashioned luck.

A screen grab of the game, Wordle.
A screen grab of the game, Wordle.

Created by software engineer Josh Wardle for his partner, who loved word games, it’s deceptively simple. But all good word games are.

For something that’s so wildly successful in the virtual space, this game doesn’t tick the typical viral criteria boxes. You don’t need to download an app or to create a login, you just play it on the website.

Furthermore, you cannot binge on it for round after round, a habit we’ve grown so accustomed to in our Netflix marathons. Gone are the days of waiting until tomorrow or next week for the next episode. But ironically that’s where Wordle gains its charm. It releases just one word a day to be guessed, the same word for everybody. This makes your results comparable across the internet and between friends. A level playing field, so to speak. And it keeps you looking forward to tomorrow’s chance to improve your efforts.

And there are plenty of reasons to keep up those efforts. A 2019 study by the University of Exeter showed the use of crosswords and number puzzles leads to a sharper brain as we age. This online study of more than 19,000 participants over the age of 50 found that more regular use of these games led to better attention, memory and reasoning abilities.

Grammatical reasoning ability was the equivalent of somebody 10 years younger, a bold claim to make. Dementia in later life couldn’t be ruled out, but engaging in word and number puzzles kept the brain working better for longer.

And the benefits of these types of games go beyond just the obvious problem solving, even though that in itself is enough reason to get involved. Games like Wordle take you out of the ruminating or over-thinking brain, and into the practical mind. They provide a reprieve from the spiral of worry we can get caught up in, and offer a healthier type of chewing gum for the brain - for those few minutes at least.

It’s also important to acknowledge the other huge benefit of Wordle and games like it. They create connection. I have very fond memories of doing crosswords with my granny, heads bent over the page in companionship. She always saved the Word Wheel from The Examiner for me too. She was sharp as a tack and always had it figured out herself first before passing it on! She was never a big Suduko fan, that’s my dad’s preferred game. That, and the annual Christmas Scrabble event that never fails to end in a heated debate over the legitimacy of a word!

Wordle, in its online capacity, generates a similar sense of banter and community. Efforts are shared online each day, and players connect over their results.

The magic is in its simplicity, and in the common goal to spend just three minutes cracking the Wordle code. It’s released at midnight in each time zone, which facilitates the conversation to grow.

Short, snappy and uplifting, Wordle is a great way to exercise the brain and fire up those neural pathways.

It might delight you or drive you to despair, but either way, there are definitely worse ways you could spend your time!

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