Wordle, the “New York Times” buys it for “a few million”. But the fans protest

from Irene Soave

Created for love, in three months the play on words has depopulated. Now The Times will use it to reach 10 million subscribers, but (at least for now) it will remain free

The New York Times I bought Wordle, and who knows if playing it will be the same thing again. Wordle is a word game that popped up online on October 27, 2021: the creator, Josh Wardle (and so we also understand the genesis of the name of the game), left his girlfriend passionate about puzzles every day a little computer word game to amuse her, and soon that always witty little game began to become a mania for all their loved ones. So Wardle put it online. The first game had 90 users; in a few weeks “millions of people” from all over the world started playing with it, says the New York Times. Among them stars such as comedian Jimmy Fallon, who on January 4 multiplied Wordle’s fame with a tweet; and actor Stephen Fry (Gosford Park, V for Vendetta) sample of a version based only on bad words, called Lewdle (it’s in English).

Soon the New York Times could reserve it for its subscribers, with the aim of growing them to 10 million: the games on the site Nytimes.com you pay in addition to the subscription, but for now, says its developer, Wordle remains open to all. On the other hand, the Times he claims to have paid a “seven-figure, low-end” sum, that is, one to five million dollars. An investment: the crossword puzzle alone is worth 11% of the publishing revenues, including recipes and podcasts, of the New York Times.

The fans of the game, as conservative as all the fans of the first hour, protest on social networks: much of Wordle’s appeal was in the feeling of having “discovered” the game through word of mouth. Founder Josh Wardle almost seems to apologize to them in a letter: “I was starting to get a little overwhelmed, I’m still one person.”

Wordle is not a difficult game but it is not obvious: you have to guess in six attempts a word of five letters. The program responds by coloring the letters gray (wrong), yellow (right, wrong position) or green (right and right position).

Knowing English very well, unlike crosswords, is not necessary: ​​it helps to have a good vocabulary, but so far Wardle has been magnanimous and has almost always chosen very common terms (“light”; “could”; “stars »). However, translated versions have sprung up all over the world: the Italian data scientist Pietro Peterlongo has developed “Par * le”, there are some in French, Spanish, German, Chinese – where a word is made up of one, but more often two or three characters, and the solution to the riddle is a proverb. And there are many thematic versions: the most cryptic (for over 20s) is dedicated to the Korean boy band Bts.

Wordle is, above all, accessible. The site has no graphics or advertising. Not only is it free to play, but in an era when even to order a pizza you have to subscribe to sites to which you can even declare your zodiacal ascendant, it is also p
registration fee. There isn’t even an app to download: it is played on one site. It’s a game born for fun, produced by one person in their spare time, and it doesn’t want to look different. These ingredients of Wordle’s success will likely vanish.

Destined to stay, however, is the most magical: Wardle and his imitators have published, so far, only one game a day. Once solved, you have to wait 24 hours for a new game. A small pleasure of five characters and as many minutes; no “binges” like with TV series. In the age of unlimited streaming content, a game with a limited, intelligent and short offer is to break through. A lesson for a great newspaper like the Times?

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