Jackie Frere/The New York Times

February 17, 2022

Wordle and the Power of Cultural Phenomena

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Why does everyone love Wordle? Although completing the day’s game is one of the first things I do each morning, I couldn’t quite tell you why, and I’m not alone. References to Wordle abound online and across social media. I see the familiar gray, green and yellow squares in libraries and cafés across campus. I’ve even inducted some friends into the world of Wordle, their eye rolls and qualms (“isn’t it just a crossword?”) changing into furrowed brows and slight smiles of accomplishment. 

For those uninitiated into Wordle, you have six chances to guess a five-letter word each day. Each chance, you are told if the letters in your current word have been identified correctly and placed in the right location.

Josh Wardle, a software engineer from Brooklyn, created Wordle last year. He had become enthralled by word-related puzzles along with his girlfriend, and he created Wordle (the perfect variation on his last name) to add to their repertoire. The game quickly gained traction as it grew from a two-person player base to millions worldwide. 

Last week, the Wordle fanbase fumed as The New York Times announced a seven-figure acquisition to add the game to their established gaming section, which includes Spelling Bee and The Mini Crossword. Fans complained that the corporatization of the simple, no-frills game made it lose some authenticity. And although Wardle has promised the game will remain free, suspicions surge. 

Currently on my 40th consecutive day playing Wordle, I can feel my enthusiasm beginning to wane. It felt refreshing to only be able to play once a day, especially in our world of excess, but it now sometimes feels like a chore. The high of getting the word on the second or third row feels less high; the low of starting off with a complete line of gray feels less low. Maybe the addition of the classic New York Times font or URL has something to do with it. 

As I contemplated the role of Wordle in our lives over the past few weeks, I thought about the various short-lived cultural phenomena in my life. When I was very young, it was Silly Bandz, then a summer of Pokémon Go, fidget spinners (before schools banned them) and a quarantine-induced foray into sourdough bread. While it feels like progress to move from counting the number of rubber bands I could fit on an arm to completing a daily word puzzle, the strong grip of a fleeting fad still holds. 

Who knows why some things become popular and others don’t? Josh Wardle certainly wasn’t looking for fame, and I wasn’t looking for a new game to play. Sometimes, whether for days, weeks or months, our lives collide with a new piece of the cultural zeitgeist. Maybe it’ll stick, or maybe it’ll seem incredibly antiquated – or perhaps, more kindly, nostalgic – in a few years. 

Each morning, my family group chat buzzes about how many rows it took them to solve Wordle that day. Many days, that’s the only communication I have with my parents and brother, and maybe that’s the point of a trend like Wordle. Nobody can really say how ubiquitous trends like Wordle happen or where they’re going, but we hang on in order to stay connected to those around us. We form obsessions, make questionable purchases, create memes, try to capitalize on a passing craze. 

What will the next Wordle be? It’s literally impossible to say. 

Eliza Salamon is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]