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

A phone showing Wordle on the screen
(Image credit: Wordle)

If your Twitter feed has recently become cluttered with yellow and green squares shared by overly smug people, then congratulations — you've seen Wordle.

This online puzzle game has gone viral in the past week, as people everywhere have realized that a) it's great and b) it's an easy way assert their mental superiority over others.

I love puzzle games in general, and welcome any chance to brag about how smart I am, so it's a win-win for me. But what even is Wordle? How do you play it? Why is it so addictive? And how do you win? Read on to find out everything you need to know about Wordle.

What is Wordle?

Wordle is at its heart a very simple game. 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.

It's played via the Wordle website, is entirely free of ads and can only be completed once each day. That's right — no three-hour time-wasting Wordle sessions while you're supposed to be working. There's just one puzzle a day, and everyone completes the same one. It resets at 7 p.m. ET each day, and I'm already finding the wait to be interminable. Still, I can at least fill the time with one of the best Wordle alternatives such as the excellent Absurdle.

A photo of the Wordle social sharing screen

(Image credit: Wordle)

One of the big drivers of 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.

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.

What are the rules of Wordle?

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. That hasn't been disclosed, but presumably it's based on a dictionary.
  • 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
  • You must prove how clever you are by sharing your Wordle after you've completed it*

* Not really

What is a good Wordle strategy? 

A GIF of Wordle in action

(Image credit: Wordle)

Full disclosure: I'm not a genius. And I've only played Wordle a handful of times, having discovered it over Christmas. But I do have some mostly unscientific theories as to how to play and win.

1. You're going to want to choose a good starter word. AZYGY may be a clever word and a good choice in Scrabble, but it's unlikely to be the answer here and doesn't have many common letters. I tend to start with TEARS each time: it has an 'A' and an 'E', plus three common consonants in sensible places. 

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 case, 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. In this case, 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. Using another common letter, 'M', I next went for TIMER.

Wordle screenshots

(Image credit: Wordle)

5. Not quite there, but more letters confirmed.

Wordle screenshots

(Image credit: Wordle)

6. With only a few possible answers left, I chose TIGER…

Wordle screenshots

(Image credit: Wordle)

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

Wordle screenshots

(Image credit: Wordle)

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 goes as you need to complete it, then return to the window that's signed in to your profile and enter the correct word.

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

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.  

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

As U.K. Editor in Chief on Tom’s Guide, Marc is responsible for the site’s U.K.-focused output as well as overseeing all gaming, streaming, audio, TV, entertainment, how-to and cameras coverage. He previously edited the tech website Stuff and has tested and written about phones, tablets, wearables, streaming boxes, smart home devices, Bluetooth speakers, games 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, Marc 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 (particularly cricket).