What is Wordle and how to play — everything you need to know

Wordle displayed on a smartphone
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

What is Wordle? Where have you been the past five months! It's nothing less than a viral gaming phenomenon that exploded out of nowhere at the start of 2022 to become the planet's favorite new word game.  

You'll definitely have seen it if you spend any time on Twitter, where people share the distinctive grid of yellow and green squares representing today's Wordle answer, and their success (or otherwise) in guessing it.

But how do you play Wordle? What are the Wordle rules? How do you win at Wordle? What is a 'start word'? And where all these Wordle alternatives and clones coming from? 

Read on and I'll explain what Wordle is and everything you need to know about it.

What is Wordle?

Wordle with a magnifying glass over it

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Wordle is a very simple game to play, but it has several features that have lifted it above the competition. These are:

  • You can only play one puzzle a day
  • Everyone plays the same puzzle
  • It's easy to share your game on social media without spoiling the answer for others

Here's a little bit more details about the basics behind the game:

The aim

Your challenge is to guess a five-letter word in six attempts. Each time you guess, you're told which of your chosen letters are in the target word, and whether they are in the right place. And that's it.

Where to play

You can play Wordle on the New York Times Games site. There are no apps — so if you see something claiming to be one, it's a fake.

It was originally hosted on the Wordle website designed by creator Josh Wardle, but moved when the NYT bought Wordle in early February. Some people think that Wordle has gotten harder since the NYT takeover, but it really hasn't. It is (currently) still free to play and free of ads, just as it initially was. 

When to play

Wordle can only be completed once each day. That's right — no three-hour time-wasting Wordle sessions while you're supposed to be working. The game resets at midnight each day, so if you're really eager you can stay up and complete it while everyone else is asleep. 

What are those grids on Twitter?

A photo of the Wordle social sharing screen

(Image credit: Wordle)

One of the big drivers behind Wordle's success is that social media sharing is encouraged, but in a way that doesn't spoil the surprise for anyone who hasn't played that day's puzzle. 

When you click the Share button, you get a grid of yellow and green squares representing the path you took, but without revealing the actual letters. That makes it easy for people to post on Twitter or another social media site, but without giving the game away. 

Because everyone plays the same puzzle, it's easy for people to compare their answers with those of others — whether strangers on Twitter or friends in a WhatsApp group.

It's particularly big on Twitter, with several hashtags and search terms springing up around it and trending regularly. You'll often see 'Wordle 312' or similar trending, with the '312' being the game number. And on a tough day, you'll get 'Wordle 312 X', with the 'X' representing the fact that people have failed it.

What are Wordle streaks?

The challenge of solving the day's puzzle is what brings people to Wordle, but streaks are what keeps them coming back. Wordle keeps track of how many games you've played and how many successive victories you've had; that's your streak. 

Many people have been playing since January, so it's not uncommon for people to have streaks of around 100 now. But bear in mind that if you miss a game, your streak will be lost. Plus, your streak is only tracked on one device, ie if you usually play on your phone, then switch to a laptop for a day, your phone streak would be reset and your laptop streak would start at 1. This has caught me out multiple times.

Although, I lost my Wordle streak without losing or missing a game, which is pretty frustrating. 

What is Wordle hard mode?

Wordle doesn't have many features as such, but there is a dark mode — and a hard mode. Hard mode forces you to play any correct letters on subsequent guesses — so if you have a green S at the start, you'd have to keep playing S at the start from then on. And if you have a yellow R in the word, all subsequent guesses would have to include R somewhere too. 

What is WordleBot?

A screenshot from Wordlebot showing the intro to the tool

(Image credit: Wordle/NYT)

WordleBot is a tool made by the NYT, and it's brilliant. It analyzes each game you play and gives you tips for what you could have done differently and how your game compared to the average. You can access it on the NYT's The Upshot site, but it's no longer available for free, sadly; you'll need an NYT or NYT Games subscription to get through the paywall. 

Who made Wordle?

Wordle was created by developer Josh Wardle, a guy who you may have come across before; he was also the man behind the Reddit projects The Button and Place, each of which were similarly brilliant — and brilliantly simple — experiments in internet behavior. 

When did Wordle start?

Wardle created Wordle back in 2013 but the project lay dormant until lockdown, when he resurrected it for his puzzle-loving partner. It was released into the wild in October 2021, but soared in popularity in January 2022. 

If you delve into the HTML code in Wordle, you can see every answer and the game's starting date, and by this measure the first game was on June 19, 2021. The first puzzle — #0, not #1 — was CIGAR. On Wordle's first birthday, we came up with a list of 5 ways it needsd to improve to keep us playing for the foreseeable future.

What are the Wordle rules?

Wordle is such a simple game that there are hardly any rules. But here you go:

  • You have to guess the Wordle in six goes or less
  • Every word you enter must be in the word list. There are more than 10,000 words in this list, but only 2,309 (at the time of writing) are answers to a specific puzzle
  • A correct letter turns green
  • A correct letter in the wrong place turns yellow
  • An incorrect letter turns gray
  • Letters can be used more than once
  • Answers are never plurals
  • You must prove how clever you are by sharing your Wordle after you've completed it*

* Not really

What is a Wordle start word?

You'll hear a lot about 'start words' in Wordle, because they are key to getting a good score. Not everyone uses one, but the basic theory is that if you choose a statistically optimum word you'll narrow down the options right from the first guess.

Reams of analysis has been written about this subject (much of it by me, admittedly), so check out my list of the best Wordle start words before you play.

How to play Wordle — and win

A GIF of Wordle in action

(Image credit: Wordle)

Full disclosure: I'm not a genius. But I've played every Wordle and only lost once, so I do have some tips to share. 

1. As I said above, you're going to want to choose one of the best Wordle start words, because getting this bit right can make a huge difference to your game.

There's detailed analysis in that linked article, but the basics are that your Wordle start word should be something that uses as many common Wordle letters as possible, including at least two vowels. So while AZYGY may be a clever word and a good choice in Scrabble, it's not the best choice. 

I used to start with TEARS each time, as it has an 'A' and an 'E', plus three common consonants in sensible places, but I've since graduated to STARE; same letters, but words starting with S are far more common than words that end with one, in Wordle at least, so it's a better first choice.

Wordle screenshots

(Image credit: Wordle)

2. Press enter and you'll see which letters are fully correct, or partially correct, i.e. they're in the target word but in the wrong place. In this example game, #200 from back in January, I got lucky — 'T' was correct right off, and 'E' and 'R' were both also present in the answer.

Wordle screenshots

(Image credit: Wordle)

3. Next, you'll want to think of another word containing all of the letters that you've already told are correct. Letters can be in a word more than once, but I'd stick to a single entry for each at this stage, unless you have a really good reason to think you know what the word is.

Use other common letters at this stage — so still avoid the Qs, Zs, Xs and even the Ks, Hs, Js, etc. Stick to the letters that have a low value in Scrabble and you'll be good.  If you want more specific guidance, check out my analysis of every Wordle answer, where I discuss topics such as which letters are most common in Wordle, where certain letters are more likely to appear in a word, and which combinations occur most frequently. 

In the case of the above game, I went with 'D' and 'I', adding them to the 'T', 'E' and 'R' that I already knew were in the word to make TRIED.

Wordle screenshots

(Image credit: Wordle)

4. Another success: the 'E' was now confirmed as being in the right place, and the 'I' as being in there somewhere too. Using another common letter, 'M', I next went for TIMER.

Wordle screenshots

(Image credit: Wordle)

5. Not right, but nearly there. With only a few possible answers left, I chose TIGER…

Wordle screenshots

(Image credit: Wordle)

6. And correct, in 4/6 moves. Which is about average, it seems.

Why does Wordle sometimes have two answers?

Very occasionally, Wordle confuses many players by serving up two different Wordle answers, meaning that a bunch of people get one solution while everyone else gets another.

This is, obviously, not a deliberate move. But it is frustrating.

The issue arises because of the way Wordle was built. The game runs entirely in a browser, and the word list which determines what you see on a given day is listed within the site's source code. Each puzzle appears in turn depending on the date your device is using. So you could, theoretically, change your computer's clock to tomorrow and you'd be able to solve tomorrow's puzzle a day early. (But you shouldn't do that, obviously.)

As a result, when the NYT changes or removes a word — which it has done a couple of times now — anyone using an old word list will see a different answer from everyone else. The only way you'd see an old list would be if you hadn't refreshed your browser in a while, but plenty of people do that.

Wordle clones

A screenshot of the web game Squabble

(Image credit: Squabble)

Yes, there absolutely are — in fact there's been an explosion of Cambrian-like proportions in Wordle clones over the past few months.

We've rounded up our favorites in our best Wordle alternatives and clones article, but we're also big fans of Quordle (which makes you play four games at once), Squabble (which lets you play against others online), Waffle (which combines Wordle with a crossword) and Hurdle (which makes you play five games in a row).

Want more? You could also try Worldle (a geography-based clone), Heardle (Wordle but music), Framed (Wordle but movies) or Redactle (in which you have to uncover a redacted Wikipedia page).

Clearly, you won't be stuck for things to play while you wait for the next Wordle puzzle.

Why is Wordle so addictive?

A screen showing the Wordle success screen

(Image credit: Wordle)

Wordle isn't massively different to plenty of word games available on the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, but it displays a refreshing attitude to you, your time and your money.

I play quite a few word games, and most are ruined by copious ads and repeated exhortations (if not extortions) to spend money on in-app purchases. Out of lives? Keep playing! For just £2.99 you can purchase this chance to win another go! Oh bad luck — but don't worry, you get this free sticker!

But Wordle isn't like that. It doesn't want to make money from you, and it doesn't even want you to keep playing for hours.

"I am a bit suspicious of mobile apps that demand your attention and send you push notifications to get more of your attention," Wardle told the BBC.

In fact, that's another refreshing thing about it. Binge-culture is very real, and like most people I will regularly finish a Netflix show, or a game, in long bursts over a day or two, mostly when I should be asleep. I can't do that with Wordle: one puzzle a day is so little, but it means the game is always fresh.  

Of course the move to the New York Times has led some people to fear that it will be changed from what made it so special, but thus far at least those fears appear to be unfounded.

Will I still be playing Wordle this time next year? Maybe not — but I've certainly not had my fill yet.

Can you cheat at Wordle?

Yes you can. But you shouldn't, obviously.

If, however, you really want to delude yourself and your poor social media friends, you can quite easily open Wordle in an incognito browser window, take as many guesses as you need to complete it, then return to the window that's signed in to your profile and enter the correct word. Alternatively, you could search for today's Wordle answer, then pass it off as your own.

There, you did it in one guess. Aren't you clever? 

Read next: Your Wordle streak is about to get a multi-device boost — here's how to get it set up

Marc McLaren

Formerly Editor in Chief (U.K.) on Tom’s Guide, Marc oversaw all gaming, streaming, audio, TV, entertainment, how-to and cameras coverage, and was also responsible for the site’s U.K.-focused output. He is now U.K. Editor in Chief on TechRadar. Marc previously edited the tech website Stuff and has tested and written about phones, tablets, wearables, streaming boxes, smart home devices, Bluetooth speakers, headphones, games, TVs, cameras and much more. He also spent years on a music magazine, where his duties mainly involved spoiling other people’s fun, and on a car magazine. An avid photographer, he likes nothing better than taking pictures of very small things (bugs, his daughters) or very big things (distant galaxies). When he gets time, he also enjoys gaming (console and mobile), cycling and attempting to watch as much sport as any human can. He's also fallen in love with Wordle over the past six months and is the author of our today's Wordle answer column, in which he supplies hints and strategy tips for the mega-popular word game. Given he's completed every single Wordle so far and only lost once, and analyzed every Wordle answer in search of patterns, he's well qualified to help you safeguard your streak.