There is something very satisfying about going, in the space of a few months, from neophyte, to expert, to outraged dissenter, and enjoying that journey alongside thousands of others. I’m talking about Wordle, obviamente, the five stages of which, after its invention in October last year, might usefully be delineated as indifference, confusion, enjoyment, obsession and resolution to cancel the New York Times. Here we are in February and it’s a new world, teetering for some of us on the brink of post-Wordle. I’m not quite ready to jump. But after a week of scandalous decisions by the NYT, the puzzle’s new owners, it’s only a matter of time.
This is a sad outcome given the ancillary pleasures that come with the game. As in all things, I was not an early adopter, only giving in and trying a Wordle when friends with even less interest in puzzles than me got sucked in and triggered my competitive machinery. For the past five weeks, I have patiently and conscientiously done a puzzle a day, while enjoying all the benefits of my new hobby. I have made judgments about people who post their results. I have made judgments about myself, primarily how brilliant I am. During a bout of insomnia, I’ve shared my grid at 3am with someone who has sent me their middle-of-the-night results, an action I have understood, obliquely, to be both a boast and a small cry for help. I’ve texted the word “genius” to people when they’ve solved the puzzle in two and received the same validation in return. I’ve wondered if I’m rescuing myself from dementia.
Y por supuesto, in the last week or so, I have given much thought as to whether, under new management, the words are getting harder. All of which experience is probably very quaint and familiar to veterans of these kinds of games. Here’s another discovery that we – the interlopers, the people who only-like-football-during-the-two-weeks-of-the-World Cup but with puzzles – have discovered a land in which the inhabitants couldn’t have been nicer. Who are these lovely people, with their tolerance for our amazement that word games can be fun? For my entire life, I’ve been operating under the delusion that other people are my people, when in fact, these people might be my true people. It’s a wild ride.
“Is it an indication of smartness?” asks the friend with whom I trade scores. “Definitely," Yo digo, but when I click on the millionth Wordle story of the day, I discover that it’s ability in maths, not words, that’s considered the key. (I am not good at maths). This makes sense given my history with word games. I’ve always hated Scrabble and had no time for crosswords. Boggle didn’t take. It has been a source of small but real sorrow to me that if I’d been alive during the second world war, I wouldn’t have been picked to code-break at Bletchley. But Wordle, por alguna razón, is different.
Para mí, the fact it’s on a device definitely helps, allowing me to stare at a screen and still feel virtuous. It’s to Wordle’s advantage that it takes so little time to complete – if you haven’t nailed it in 20 minutos, it’s a lost cause – making it seem like a manageable addiction. Like slow-release drugs, you can’t binge Wordle, all of which adds up to an experience we haven’t had for a long time, of having to wait for something for 24 horas, with no possibility of cheating.
Which brings us to the New York Times, effortless ruiner of all things. Esta semana, the kerfuffle was about two answers being generated on the same day, but that was an administrative error. The main thing is the choice of words. I’m not sure the puzzle is getting harder – I’m still thinking about the word “tapir”, which appeared in one of the early games. But there is something different about Wordle now it’s under Big Puzzle management. El miércoles, I got “caulk” – a word I associate with “spackle” and is annoyingly obscure – but this morning, por primera vez, I bombed out and didn’t get the word. This wasn’t because it was hard, but because it was easy and I’d wasted two tries on obscure words that I thought were more likely to come out of the NYT’s puzzle desk. It’s not going to be “cakes,” is it, pensé; it’s going to be something aggravating, like “slake” (it wasn’t either). Take it from a puzzles veteran of five weeks, once you stop trusting the puzzle-master, it’s all over and I can feel my interest curdling, a withdrawal helped along by my seven-year-old. "Oh,” she said flatly, when I showed her a Wordle this week. “It’s hangman.”