Oh, My Wordle

Dang it, Heather. You know my HABIT for wordplay far too well. In fact, you HONED in on it like a LASER. Now I can’t even ARISE in the morning without seeing five-letter groups everywhere.

And if that made way too much sense to you, someone’s probably hooked you on Wordle, too.

Yes, my wife got me into the latest word-puzzle craze, which is a little like giving a six-year-old a high-sugar cereal and no supervision. I’m a writer. An actor. A punster. I collect words like they’re going out of style, nerd out on their histories, and revel in the ones that have an extra-neat sound to them, regardless of their meaning. (Isn’t it fun to say “discombobulate?”)

So when Heather invited me in, I was wary. And then cautiously curious. And then hooked.

If you’re new to the latest social media fad, Wordle is a simple game with a simple object: figure out a hidden five-letter word in six guesses or less. Each time you get a letter right, its square glows, green for “yes, it goes here” or yellow for “right letter, wrong place.” Once you crack it, you can show off the pattern of your guesses to your friends, letting you compare how much of a struggle it was without giving away the answer to someone who hasn’t played yet.

It’s weirdly addictive …. “weird” mainly because there’s no way it can eat up your time. You get exactly one word per day.  So you struggle, solve and move on. That’s it. No temptations to play “just one more turn.” No real-time action to make you lose track of time. Heck, you can’t even buy anything to help you out, which I’m sure breaks the Ancient Code of Online Game Developers. (“Thou shalt make thy profit and keep it holy.”)

Sure, the fad will probably cool down eventually. They always do, whether it’s Rubik’s Cube or Angry Birds, reaching a stage where they still hold fans but not the spotlight. But while it lasts, it may just be the game our time needs, and not just because it’s a single-player game in an often-distanced age.

You see, the dirty secret is that Wordle isn’t really about words. It’s about pattern recognition. And these days, that’s a survival skill.

We’re surrounded by information. Claims about politics and society. Assertions about health and safety. Compelling thoughts that seem to fit so well with what we think and feel. Some are genuine. Some are trash. All of them make constant appeals for our time and attention.

It’s easy to just react, just like it’s easy to zone out on a game of Candy Crush or even Tetris (for the old-schoolers in the crowd). After all, time is precious and none of this could be that important, right? But inevitably, some of it will make a difference: for you, your neighbor, the world around you.

And so, at our best, we grapple. We study. We look closer and see what actually makes sense.

Mind you, it’s easy to force a pattern onto circumstances. Conspiracy theorists do it all the time. That’s a different thing entirely, like declaring a Wordle victory with four letters wrong because “I know what the answer really is!” You get so caught up in what an answer should be that you miss the clues to what it is.

So it’s good practice to have a game where you see patterns, but can’t impose them. Where the object is to be aware and find a path that makes sense. Where you can stay interested without growing obsessed.

Each of those is a skill worth building.

In fact, you might even say it’s a useful KNACK.