Blog Post


What Can We Learn From Wordle?

Written by: Paul Lindgren

Wordle is one of those near-perfect online puzzles. It’s new every day.  It is very engaging.  It doesn’t take a huge amount of time, and when you’re done, you’re done.  It doesn’t immediately offer another puzzle in an attempt to pull you down into an ad-infested, time-monopolizing black hole. You have no alternative except to wait until tomorrow to take a try at the next one.

If you haven’t played it before, Wordle is an online property that was acquired by the New York Times from software engineer Josh Wardle.  You have 6 tries to guess the day’s five-letter word (everyone gets the same one).  After each guess, you receive  feedback:

  • If your guess isn’t in their big List-O-Words, it “shakes” to let you know it is not a valid option.
  •  If a letter in your guess is in the word of the day but in the wrong spot, it turns yellow.
  •  If a letter is in the word and is in the right place, it turns green.
  • If a letter isn’t in the word at all, it is shown as gray.

That’s it. The challenge is to come up with the day’s word before you run out of your six allotted guesses.

What prompted me to write this piece was the realization that just a short time after successfully completing the puzzle on any given day, I usually have absolutely no idea what the solution word was.  For the life of me I just can’t remember.  This is interesting to me, but does it have any significance?  Let’s think about it.

To successfully arrive at a solution, one needs to perform some fairly significant strategic thinking.  Wordle is basically a self-contained hypothesis/feedback loop. It temporarily locks our brains into the task of rapidly generating possible letter combinations based on the specific set of information available at each point in time. The skills that we develop through practice on tasks like this (hypothesizing and responding to feedback) are ones that we can hold on to and re-apply in many other situations 

As best I can theorize, our brains (generally) are only engaged with the word itself for that brief moment when we either experience triumph or suffer the ignominy of a shattered Wordle “streak”.  This brief moment of closure gives us no real reason to dwell upon the target word at any significant length.  This leaves this memory (if we ever had it at all) susceptible to rapid degradation and loss.

So what can we learn from Wordle?  The thinking processes behind activities like this need to be practiced frequently by students in a variety of settings and applications.  These have “legs” that can carry students far into the future.  Memories, on the other hand, are hard work to build in the first place and even more difficult to maintain over extended periods of time.

I’d love to hear what you think about these thoughts and conclusions. And may your next Wordle streak go on and on and on and…