I've learned a lot from playing Wordle every day. Most of it isn't that useful - for instance that I struggle with five-letter words that end in ER, or that I don't know what BORAX is. But some of it is useful, at least when it comes to the art of streak preservation.
I speak from experience, because today my Wordle streak hit 500. That's nearly 18 months of daily play without a single loss, through vacations and family crises and a change of job, through war and elections and World Cups, through rain and shine. I played at my sister's wedding, I played at a four-day music festival, I played when I was sick. And somehow, I won every time.
That certainly isn't because I'm a genius (not that anyone suggested it was). Rather, I seem to be the Wordle equivalent of a tardigrade, able to survive in all conditions and emerge unscathed.
I escaped with a 5/6 for JOKER, for instance, the joint hardest Wordle of 2023 so far. I got lucky with PARER, arguably the hardest ever, by rolling a dice on the final guess to decide between PARER, PAYER and PAVER. (I wouldn't recommend that as a general strategy.) And I solved the likes of WATCH and FOYER and GAWKY and CACAO and FLUFF and CAULK and TACIT and all the other Wordles that people failed on. And I never used any Wordle hints, either.
As I said, I'm not a genius - so how did I do it? Well, here's what I've learned from winning 500 straight games of Wordle.
NB: If you're not bothered about keeping your Wordle streak going and just like playing for fun each day, this article will not be for you. Read this one about using ChatGPT to overcome grief instead.
1. Streaks count for more than high scores
Well, obviously I'd say that. But it's true. Anyone can get a 1/6 on Wordle - all you need to do is stick with the same starting word each day and wait for it to roll around eventually. Or change it each day and get lucky. There is no skill involved.
A 2/6 does involve skill, but it's still more about luck. Even the best Wordle start words will sometimes leave you with a couple of hundred possible answers. And even if your first word works really well, you still may have a choice of 5-10 solutions. Is guessing the right one skill, or luck? A bit of both, probably - but luck is a bigger part of it.
Keeping a streak going involves luck too, of course, and I've had plenty of it. But I've also played smartly (sometimes) in order to preserve it. It's about spotting the traps and not falling into them, being cautious when your instinct tells you to take a risk.
For instance: -ATCH words. There are more than six of these: WATCH, PATCH, HATCH, LATCH, CATCH, BATCH and MATCH. Guessing one after the other is not smart play. You might escape with a 3/6 or 4/6 - but you might also fail. Guessing CLAMP, though, will rule out four possible answers in one go. Even if it's not right, you'll have only three left to choose from and your streak will be safe.
Don't be a hero. Be a survivor.
2. Hard mode sucks
That -ATCH trap I just described? In hard mode, it will almost certainly screw you over, because you have to keep playing the same pattern each time.
The only way to avoid it is to plan for those eventualities and avoid getting stuck with those -ATCH letters, but that's almost impossible given that it's not the only trap you could fall into. For instance, there's the -OUND trap, or the --TER trap or the -AN-Y trap.
Hard mode therefore reduces those most difficult games to luck, and that's not the way I want to play it. If you do, that's your call - but you probably won't beat my streak.
3. It's a bad idea to play when drunk
I've only done this a couple of times, when I've been on a night out past midnight and have decided it's a good idea to get my Wordle fix in early. Note to self: do not do this again.
Alcohol and word puzzles mix about as well as alcohol and social media: you won't type what you mean to, you won't consider the consequences of what you're doing and it will all end badly (or, in my case, in a 6/6 that could easily have been a fail).
4. Start words really do matter
If you don't use a good start word, you are putting yourself at a disadvantage right away, and that's a fact. It's a fact because mathematicians say so - and mathematicians are smarter than you or I.
It all comes down to statistics. There are only so many ways the 26 letters of the alphabet can be organized into words, and there are only so many of those words in Wordle. Certain letters - for instance A, E, R, O and T - are more common in Wordle than others. Some (e.g. S, C, B) are very common at the start. Still others (Y, T, R) are very common at the end.
Put that all together and you can make algorithms that do complicated things I don't entirely understand, and determine the best possible word to play on a first guess.
I explain all this in my guide to the best Wordle start words, and also my reasoning behind why I've stuck with STARE for most of those 500 games. But whatever you choose, the key thing is that you don't change each day and you don't pick something silly like OUIJA just because it has lots of vowels. Speaking of which…
5. ADIEU is not a good start word
ADIEU is the most popular start word in Wordle, presumably because it includes four of the five common vowels. That makes some sense, because vowels do feature in almost all of Wordle's 2,309 original answers list. However, they're not nearly as useful as consonants.
Think of it this way: you know there are going to be one or two vowels in most Wordles, occasionally three or four. You only have five to choose from. Uncovering the right ones is therefore not difficult. But consonants? Well, there are 21 of those, if we include Y (which is sometimes counted as a vowel).
Vowels don't give a word its shape, consonants do. Knowing that your answer contains T, N and P tells you a lot - it's probably going to be PLANT or POINT or PAINT. There are maybe a dozen possible answers. But knowing that it contains A, E and I? Well, there are two or three times that number, maybe more.
ADIEU is fine, it's very helpful on some days and somewhat helpful on most. But if you've accepted that a constant start word is a good idea, why not use one of the best ones rather than an also-ran?
6. Second guesses are almost as important as openers
It can be really tempting to start shooting for the answer on the second guess - but don't. Well, not unless you can see there are not many answers left and your odds are good. Sure, you might get a 2/6 with an inspired guess, but more likely you'll end up with a 4/6 or worse.
If you use the second guess wisely, you can often all-but guarantee a 3/6 instead. The key thing is to get a really good idea of what answers are possible - use a notepad if it helps - then play the word that narrows it down best. And that includes leaving out green letters if you have any.
This will go against your instincts, because you'll know it's not going to be the answer. But realistically, you're not going to guess correctly if you have more than about 20 answers to pick from. Better to improve the odds that you don't end up failing entirely.
7. Playing against friends is more fun than going solo
At its heart, Wordle is a social game. That's clear from the fact that it has a built-in method for sharing over social media without giving away spoilers. Plus, the fact that everyone gets the same puzzle each day makes it an obvious target for group competition.
I share my scores with a bunch of friends daily, and it's one of the key reasons why I keep playing. Obviously I want to beat them each day, but more than that it's the way those interactions lead to random conversations that have nothing to do with Wordle. Would we chat daily without Wordle? Maybe, but this makes it a sure thing.
8. It really helps to have a good memory
There have now been almost 700 Wordle answers, and that's a lot of words to remember. I've played them all at some point - the first couple of hundred via one of the Wordle Archives that used to exist, the rest daily via the official website - and I can't get close to recalling them all.
But I do remember quite a lot of them, probably because I've been writing this column for either TechRadar or our sister site Tom's Guide during most of those 500 games. I couldn't say what the answer was on a given day, but I can tell you that FOYER has definitely been an answer, and so has TIGER, and SLATE, and BAYOU, and a few dozen more.
And I remember patterns, too. If I get a yellow A and yellow T on the first guess, I usually play PAINT next because I know that's a good word to narrow things down. With a yellow A and green E, I play ALIGN. Commit these strategies to memory or jot them down and you'll be in a good place each day. And for those times when you simply can't remember, there's always a past Wordle answers list to help.
9. There are a lot of five-letter words
Seriously. Wordle has 2,309 of them in its list of answers, but more than 10,000 are accepted as guesses. And I definitely did not know them all beforehand.
Most of the actual solutions are pretty common as words go, but not all of them are - I remember CAULK (game #244) causing people many problems, and the similar EPOXY (#280), too. EGRET (#378) was one that I wasn't sure was a real word, but that I guessed anyway because it fit and solved in 4/6.
CACAO (#364), PINEY (#500), AXIOM (#520), AORTA (#552) and BORAX are all further examples of relatively obscure words making their way into the answers list.
In short, expect the unexpected. If you have RADI- then you'd be forgiven for guessing RADIO next - but it's just as likely to be RADII, and it's important to always keep that in mind.
10. Wordle is just a game… maybe?
Obviously I take all this too seriously. But self-awareness is a thing, and I think I have it where Wordle is concerned. If I lost my streak, I could cope. There are far more important things in life, such as family and friends and my career. Plus, I just bought The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, and I can lose myself in that for the next few months.
But then I think about what it would really be like if I lost my streak and I get a little panicked. All that time poured into playing it and writing about it, and then I have to start all over again. Could I do that? Would I have the mental strength to play for another 18 months and try to beat my score?
Probably not; I'd do what sensible people do, and play for fun. And you know what? That would be a bit of a relief.
But on the other hand… no way is that going to happen. I'm shooting for 1,000 now.