Connections is the sneakiest and most evil word game – and I still love it

Phone frustrated
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

I didn't want to play Connections, the New York Times word game that asks you to find non-obvious connections between four sets of four words; but now I'm hooked, and find it to be diabolical, inscrutable, annoying, and vexing (four words that might denote Frustration). 

Of course, I can't stop playing.

Connections now sits at the tail end of my word-game crawl, which starts each evening with the iconic Wordle, cruises through the arguably tougher but also looser, Quordle, and terminates on a game board where most of my hopes and dreams go to die. 

Connections is not like Wordle which, with its five-letter quest to find a single world over six tries, offers a semblance of consistency and logic (and just celebrated its 1,000th game). 

But then with a name like Connections, what did I expect? A connection is an association that might be as rigid as steel or as amorphous as silly putty.

Connections is a liar. It presents three words that obviously go together but then fails to deliver a fourth match. It's then you realize that Connections is playing with you. Sure these words can have a connection but for the purposes of this round, they do not. 

Where Wordle feels like a game designed by Oxford Dictionary editors, Connections has a whiff of a mad scientist creation. The connections take wild leaps, and often force you to think about letters and participles not on the screen. I like that Connections applies color coding to show you that some connections are straightforward (yellow) while others are colored purple for 'Tricky.' It might help more (or even at all) if those colors were present during play, rather than after you've solved the game.

Connections examples

Some Connections examples that may have scarred me. (Image credit: Future)

Connect the dots

It's rife with esoterica. I've heard of 'spike', 'serve', and 'set', but did you know that 'bump' is a volleyball move? Nope, me neither. That same game, by the way, also featured a set of four words that were only connected by the fact that they could be appended with an 'o'" ('Daddy', 'Day', 'Jackie', 'Jell'). That had to be the threadiest of connections.

I will grant Connections this: when it's easy (green!), it's really easy. The four words for 'My Mistake' ('Sorry', 'Oops', 'Apologies', 'Pardon') could not have been clearer.

Connections is the only game with a big gimme at the end. If you manage to find three sets of connections, the fourth one is solved for you: it's whatever remains! I often think about that last set; four words standing around knowing they no longer have any purpose or import in the game. At least it's a sort of democratic process. Any one of the four sets could be that last group, though I'm sure none of them want that designation.

Easy out

Quite often, that last set – the one that made no sense – is what remains, and then you don't have to solve it. That's what happened for me with 'Date', 'Dead', 'Dirty', 'Doh', which were all the second half of 'Play ____'. On the surface, those four words had no obvious (or non-obvious connection). I have to hand it to the Connection creators. I mean, whose mind works like this?

At least Connections' insidious editor has a sense of humor. The seemingly disconnected 'Cheese', 'Feet', 'Garbage', and 'Skunk' are all 'Things that might stink.'

That doesn't absolve that editor from abominations like 'Cyclops', 'Monologue', 'Solitaire' and 'Unicycle.' Yes, once I figured out that they were all 'Associated with One,' it made some sense, but that didn't stop me from cursing the time I wasted staring at all 16 words looking for even one logical connection.

I've failed Connections more than virtually any other daily word challenge I've played, and on more than one occasion I've sworn "Never again."

I truly believe Connections is just cruel, and yet I play on.

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Lance Ulanoff
Editor At Large

A 38-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.

Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.