Culture / Software Development / Technology

Programmers Explore the Secrets of Wordle

30 Jan 2022 6:00am, by

As Wordle-mania sweeps the internet, programmers, math geeks and assorted nerds decided to get in on the fun — and they’ve unlocked an explosion of creativity.

Every day the simple yet suddenly-popular game gives players six chances to guess a five-letter word — each time highlighting their correctly-guessed letters (and those correct letters which are also in the correct position). Earlier in January Hannah Park, a recent boot camp graduate, created a Wordle-playing clone as an educational exercise (using popular tools like React, TypeScript, and Tailwind).

And then a London-based data scientist/physicist, Richard Mann (along with Imogen Mann) had an idea for a version where instead of letters, players guess the numbers and operators in a mathematical equation.

They forked Park’s code (with some help from Marcus Tettmar, the cofounder/chief technology officer of a personal finance app, Untied) to create Nerdle. “We think it’s just as fun playing with numbers as playing with letters,” explained the game’s info page. “See if you agree!”

But they’re not the only ones trying to turn the game into something more technical. Earlier this week in Norwich, England, an 18-year-old programmer named James Livesey created Bytle, a game where players try to guess — can you believe it? — an unsigned 8-bit integer.

The catch is the players’ inputs need to be normal base-10 numbers, preferrably a number between 0 and 255. But each guess gets converted to binary before the showing of eight green and yellow boxes (which now signify only which of the resulting 8 bits are correct).

Developers Ian Ross and Colin M. Saunders have even created a Python module that plays Wordle against home-grown bots — and they’re challenging developers to test their creations in 1,000-word competitions at botfights.ai.

Looking for Answers

But other programmers are trying their hands at creating Wordle solvers. Christian Genco, a developer based in Colleyville, Texas, has built an impressive multi-featured Wordle solver that also lets players input the words they’ve guessed — and then displays every possible word remaining. (Click on the letters in your guess to change the color to green or yellow.)

It also calculates your best-possible next guess — the choice which will eliminate the most remaining words. “HAHAHAHA IT WORKS SO WELL,” Genco posted jubilantly on Twitter when his tool solved puzzle No. 203 with just three guesses.

And Genco’s Wordle Solver can also be used to replay the game with your own guesses, just to see how close you were getting — or how far away.

Screenshot from Evil WordleBut soon this army of Wordle solvers was confronted by their dark doppelgangers, with more than one developer trying a variation called “Evil Wordle.”

The creator of “Absurdle” promises its own AI “is highly evasive and it takes real effort to force the game to give up useful information and back it into a corner.” (“If you enjoyed Absurdle, try HATETRIS, my adversarial version of Tetris.”)

Other developers have also implemented similar guess-evading algorithms. “Every time you guess, I look at all possible 5-letter words that would fit all your guesses, and choose the match pattern that results in the most possible words,” stated the Evil Wordle page created by Ravi Parikh, the programmer who co-founded the internal app-building platform Airplane.dev. “My goal is to maximize the amount of guesses it takes to find the word.”

Recent threads on Hacker News now find the solution builders sharing stories about how their Wordle-solving programs handled these sinister word-changing clones!

The social contract we are all upholding to not spoil the day’s Wordle has slightly restored my faith in humanity.

— Sarah Bessey (@SarahBessey) January 25, 2022

On Thursday CNET reported that a game developer named Guilherme Töws had created a “new, much more evil” clone called Dordle, in which the solution is two five-letter words, side by side, with players trying to guess them both (by still guessing just one five-letter word).

The games site Kotaku describes Dordle as “a nightmare that only begets pain and sorrow, so only accomplished word-guessers should give this one a try unless you like getting owned by a video game.”

But Kotaku also calls the spinoffs “stellar examples of what happens when smart people mess around for fun … These games can be as simple or complex as they like, and likely increasingly strange as time goes on.

“I’m excited to see what incredibly weird word-guessing games will emerge from the collective consciousness next.”

If Wordle Were a City

Other developers are also trying to build a better Wordle. Hello Wordl replicates the original game’s mechanics — but adds a slider at the top of the puzzle that expands the length of the word (and your guess words) to up to 11 letters.

Someone’s even created a variation they’re describing as “Crosswordle: Sudoku Meets Wordle,” a surprising difficult puzzle where you try to fill in a set of guesses which lead to a word — including appropriate letters for each yellow or green box.

Meanwhile, some developers have focused their efforts on bringing the joy of Wordle to other parts of the globe. There are now versions that use Yiddish and Hebrew words, and one where the words are Norwegian.

Look a bit longer, and you’ll find at least two versions using French words, plus two versions using Danish words — including one at the domain wørdle.dk. There are versions in Dutch, Portuguese, Swedish, Finnish, Romanian and even one in Bulgarian.

All across Twitter, there are wonderful stories of Wordle unlocking even more unexpected forms of creativity. Laura Tilton, a tech education professional, recently tweeted that she’s been creating visualizations of the game’s most frequently-used letters with Google Data Studio. Julian Glander, a computer graphics arts, is converting his blocks into fanciful 3-D images.

The WordleInPaint Twitter feed tried translating its guesses into cartoons using Microsoft’s Paint. David McFarlane, an associate lecturer on computer music design at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute, claims to have built a Wordle sequencer “that turns your results into music.”

And one developer even created a web page that turns tweets with Wordle’s spoiler-free colored blocks into the colorful skyscrapers from the game Townscraper.

Never-Ending Fun

In the end, maybe there’s something primal in the technical mind that sees the whole Wordle phenomenon as another new toy to take apart and explore.

Another person examining the game in new ways is Ben Hamner, the CTO/co-founder of Kaggle (a Google subsidiary once described as “an AirBnB for data scientists”). On Thursday ,Hamner announced he’d figured out a way to determine the word just by crunching all the yellow/green/gray squares people were sharing on Twitter.

“Since I started collecting Twitter data (Wordle 210-222), this method generated the correct Wordle answer on the first attempt every day!” Hamner wrote on his blog.

Though they’ve discovered some tweets are more useful than others …

But maybe the true colors of the tech community shine brightest in the story of Steven Cravotta, who at the age of 18 made another entirely different app — which he also named Wordle. Four years later, its downloads unexpectedly spiked this month, according to Cravotta’s Twitter account, suddenly attracting over 200,000 downloads in just one week.

This tale has a happy ending. Cravotta reached out to Josh Wardle, the actual creator of the now-viral game Wordle, with Cravotta promising to just donate the money to a charity — specifically, a tutoring/mentoring program called Boost! West Oakland.

Yes, there are some less-inspired variations of Wordle. A recent article in Slate noted other knock-offs — like a profanity-laced version called Sweardle — and there’s also a satirical one-letter version of the game (consonants allowed) which of course takes much longer to solve.

But to get an official reaction, Slate also tracked Wordle’s original creator, Wardle, a former software engineer at Reddit and Pinterest who (since December) has been software engineer for the New York art collective MSCHF.

Wardle said that all of the clones are leaving him with a warm and satisfied feeling inside.

“As someone who creates stuff, to see people so inspired by something that you created that they want to riff on it, that’s amazing,” he said. “That makes me feel so good.”


WebReduce

Featured image courtesy of Wordle.