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Wordle is easier because of The New York Times and I hate it

Wordle
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First, stop whining. Wordle isn't any more difficult than it was a week or so ago, before The New York Times bought it, updated the logo and colors, and put millions of Wordle fans on high alert. If anything, it just got easier.

I know, five-letter words like Cynic are not easy. They repeat letters, use just one vowel (Y is an unofficial member of the vowel family), and we don't use them that often. People complained (opens in new tab) that maybe the scribes at The New York Times were upping the ante. No, not so, promised the Old Gray Lady. These words were already in the system. The Wordle answers were already pre-defined.

What The Times has done this week, though, is simplified and maybe purified the Wordle system.

A few weeks back, I wrote about the charming Wordle rip-off, Lewdle. It was comprised of nothing but offensive words. A silly and basically harmless effort. In a statement about recent changes to Wordle, a New York Times spokesperson told Fox4News in Dallas, TX (opens in new tab):

"We are updating the word list over time to remove obscure words to keep the puzzle accessible to more people, as well as insensitive or offensive words."

It's hard to imagine a less offensive game than Wordle. In fact, the entire creation, from the design to the simple gameplay (a 5-by-6 grid, with six chances to guess the word based on visual feedback from the game) and lack of in-game competition appears the modicum of gentleness. It's much like I imagine the game's creator, Josh Wardle, who built the game essentially out of love for his partner, and as a way to stay connected during the pandemic.

Dumbing down

I get it. No one wants to work for a few minutes or more on a pleasurable word game only to find they're constructing the five letters for, say, a collection of one human body part. I've tried contacting Wardle on Twitter to learn if he ever put any "offensive" words on the list, and will update this if he responds.

In truth, though, I'm more concerned with The New York Time's other effort: to remove obscure words.

Original Wordle gamers will recall that the game's first web address was a United Kingdom URL. That's because Wardle is from Wales.

Over the month or so, I noticed more than a few anglo-centric words in the Wordle results, including Shire, Abbey, and Shard. If you've never been to the UK, never spoken to someone there, never read a book revolving around the United Kingdom, or never watched a single Harlan Coben crime drama on Netflix, you might be confused by these words.

I've watched a ton of UK crime dramas and, more recently started working with a large UK team. I tend to know my anglo-terms.

The New York Times, though, is oddly focused on accessibility for this already basic game. It's just five freakin' letters. Does The New York Times Crossword need to become more accessible?

It never occurred to me that the wordsmiths at one of America's oldest and most storied newspapers would seek to dumb down the game, make Wordle as vanilla as possible.

The beauty of Wordle is it not only challenges your five-letter word knowledge, but it also pushes you to seek out and learn new words. When we're stumped, don't most of us go on Google to try different letter combinations to unearth the unfamiliar word? Or is that just me? In any case, this game is a vocabulary builder, unless, of course, you remove obscure words.

There's a five-letter word for what The New York Times is doing and it's probably no longer fit for Wordle.

Lance Ulanoff
Lance Ulanoff

A 35-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 PCMag.com 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 (opens in new tab) makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, Fox News, Fox Business, the Today Show (opens in new tab), Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.