By Nancy McKeon
WHAT DOES it say that it’s four minutes past midnight and I’m relieved that Wordle has just dropped?
To answer my own question, it says that I’m happy to be able to spend a few quality minutes with my overstimulated mind before going to sleep. Of course, I won’t sleep for long because Spelling Bee drops at 3am. Yeah, when I get up during the night to pee, it will be waiting for me.
I long ago gave up the daily crossword puzzle in the New York Times. I gave up the Sunday puzzle a few weeks ago. I now seem to have the attention span of a 15-year-old gamer.
The daily Mini I can tolerate on my phone. And I’ll put in the few minutes required to do the Monday and Tuesday, sometimes Wednesday, crossword on my phone when they pop up at 10pm. Those first days of the week are dead simple, and the Mini doesn’t require much at all. A quick jolt and I’ve achieved something.
I got caught up in Spelling Bee maybe a year ago. At some point in the first week, the “Queen Bee” screen popped up, but I didn’t know what it meant, so I just shrugged. Now I know it meant that I had guessed all of the words contained in the seven-letter “hive” (I thought it was a daisy, go figure). Then someone (I’m looking at you, niece Erin Byrne) introduced me to the “Today’s Hints” page, meaning that even if I hit the Genius mark (not that hard to do), I could eke out more words by drilling down into the two-letter hints (e.g., AB-2, meaning there are two words beginning with AB, etc.). But now we were talking about a whole different level of commitment.
Enter Wordle! One unknown five-letter word to be guessed in six attempts. Period.* It was better when I started, back last December, when it was independent, famously invented by Welsh-born Brooklyn software engineer Josh Wardle for his girlfriend. (It went viral: 90 players on November 1, 2021, per Wikipedia, and more than 2 million a week later.) Then the Times bought it at the end of January 2022 and generally screwed things up. (I couldn’t get it on my phone until about a week ago, had to use my iPad, which meant I was taking TWO devices to bed with me. And they complain about the kids!) Everything seems to have settled down now, and I don’t for a minute begrudge Mr. Wardle his “undisclosed seven-figure” payday.
There have been copycats, such as Quordle, four different secret words, each of which has to be solved using the same guessed words (but you have more than just six guesses to get there, which I achieved exactly once before deciding that life was too short).
The biggest benefit of Wordle over the endless Spelling Bee (or Quordle, for that matter) is that Wordle is finite: one game per day, dropped at midnight. A few sometimes-frustrating minutes to figure out what the secret word is, based on your initial guess and the letter hints offered with each guess.
And then sleep.
At least until Spelling Bee drops.†
* Okay, weirdness alert: There are sometimes TWO correct answers. But I don’t care, as long as I get one of them.
† Oh no! I just learned about KnotWords! And I have a new fave, Worldle, six chances to identify a country by its outline (with hints as to distance and direction from each guess). All right, a new, new fave: Artle, from the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC—images not words, you get four chances to guess the artist! I’m in! And David Remnick would kill me if I didn’t at least mention The New Yorker’s Name Drop, six clues to guessing the identity of a “notable name,” past or present.