Meet Semantle — this Wordle alternative is impossibly hard

Someone holding a smartphone playing Wordle
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Just when it seemed that the likes of Absurdle and Octordle had reached the limits of how difficult Wordle alternatives could get, along comes something to have you tearing your hair out all over again. 

Semantle dispatches with the usual guesses based on spelling, and instead has you guessing a word based on semantic similarity. Which is to say how likely a word is to be used in similar contexts. 

For every word you guess, Semantle will tell you whether you’re hot or, if you’re outside of the top 1,000 closest words, cold. It will also provide a number informing you of the closeness of the word: 100 indicates the word is identical, so you can tell if you’re moving in the right direction. Theoretically this can go as low as -100, game creator David Turner writes, “but in practice it’s around -34.”

Semantle: an impossibly hard Wordle alternative

(Image credit: Alan Martin)

Yes, that’s every bit as hard as it sounds, and you’ll certainly need more than the six guesses Wordle gives you. The game’s dictionary is based on the 5,000 most popular English language words (with hyphenated and capitalized ones removed) and not all of them are nouns.

So how does it work in practice? Well, yesterday’s mystery word was “cooperate.” That means that variations of the word (cooperating, cooperated, cooperates and cooperation) scored between 59.16 and 77.18 with words like “collaborate”, “comply”, “engage” and “relent” also near the top. 

But near the bottom of the top 1,000 you also get some thoroughly unhelpful suggestions like “misgovern”, “vacate” and “lenient” which wouldn’t be super helpful, even though they’d move you away from being cold with scores in the low 20s.   

The underlying technology that powers this is Word2vec, and specifically a data set based on Google News, which may explain why some of the related words don’t feel close. These are, after all, words used in similar contexts and that’s not necessarily all that helpful when trying to zone in on today’s needle in a haystack.

It’s a challenge, in other words, and certainly not for everyone. The amount of time it takes me to come up with six possible Wordle answers makes me think I’m best off sticking to the original — or maybe Heardle for a musical twist.

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.