Wordle has been around long enough now that most of us think we're ready for whatever the game throws at us. But today? Well, today's Wordle is on another level of difficulty.
Remember CACAO? Yeah, it's harder than that. WATCH? Pah - that's easy compared to this. CAULK? SWILL? EGRET? All tough, but they don't compare to this. No, today's word is one of those ones, the ones that stick in the memory months later and that eats streaks like they're jelly beans.
So what makes it so tough - and how can you avoid losing your streak on a day like today without turning to Wordle hints for help?
To explain, I'll need to discuss the game in detail - which means SPOILERS FOR WORDLE #675, Tuesday, 25 April 2023, follow after this point. Don't read on if you haven't already played!
Just how difficult is today's Wordle?
There are various ways to judge the difficulty of a Wordle answer, and a couple of them live on Twitter. One sure sign is that 'Wordle 275 X' is already trending high on the platform, with a long line of people posting that they've lost their streak today.
Wordle 675 X/6⬜🟨⬜⬜⬜🟨🟩⬜🟩⬜⬜🟩🟨🟩⬜⬜🟩⬜🟩🟩⬜🟩⬜🟩🟩⬜🟩⬜🟩🟩 Lost my streak... approach with caution!! pic.twitter.com/NxKO1q1EAKApril 25, 2023
#wordle @albolt76Wordle 675 X/6⬛⬛⬛🟩⬛⬛🟩⬛🟩⬛⬛🟩⬛🟩🟩⬛🟩⬛🟩🟩⬛🟩⬛🟩🟩⬛🟩⬛🟩🟩 pic.twitter.com/RReSt8y0RQApril 25, 2023
*sigh*That was a nice streak of 144 I had there. Wordle 675 X/6*⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛🟩⬛⬛⬛⬛🟩⬛🟩🟩⬛🟩⬛🟩🟩⬛🟩⬛🟩🟩⬛🟩⬛🟩🟩April 25, 2023
Another is to look at the Wordle Stats Twitter account, which records the number of people failing each puzzle. However, this doesn't update until the next day, so we can't use that to judge Wordle #675.
What we can do is look at WordleBot, the New York Times' AI helper tool. This samples thousands of games each day and records an average score for each one - and right now, the average is at 5.4.
I don't know the average score for every Wordle so far, partly because WordleBot only launched halfway through the game's life. But I do have about 200 or so listed on a spreadsheet, including all of them so far in 2023. And by that measure, today's answer is the equal second hardest ever.
Of the games I've recorded, it's one of only four to have passed the 5.0 mark. The others were PARER (#454), which averaged 6.3, FOYER (game #304, another 5.4) and RIPER (game #613, again 5.4). To put it in context, the overall average is around 4.
I'll assume that if you're still reading, you've finished playing, so let's talk about today's answer: JOKER.
It doesn't take a genius to spot the common theme here: all four of the words listed above end in ER. What's more, they all have the pattern CONSONANT-VOWEL-CONSONANT-E-R - and the challenge each time lies mainly in working out what those two missing consonants are.
Today's challenge was a particularly difficult one, because those consonants are J and K - two of the least likely letters to appear.
Early last year, soon after Wordle exploded in popularity, I spent a happy few hours analyzing the letter data from the original 2,309 answers for TechRadar's sister site, Tom's Guide. My Wordle analysis found that J is actually the least common letter in the game; it only appears 27 times in total, which is about 15 times less likely than a nondescript letter such as H and nearly 50 times less likely than an E!
K is a bit more common than that - it occurs 210 times in total. However, more than half of those appearances (113) come at the end of a word (think FLACK or BLACK). In the middle of a word, it appears just 12 times.
Too many options
These kind of Wordles - let's call them ER games - have a particular problem, which is identified by the repeated cries of 'Too many options' from those bemoaning their luck on Twitter.
The problem is that there are lots of possible combinations. Obviously the number of options open to you will depend on which of the best Wordle starting words you use - or indeed, if you use any at all - but either way, there will be many.
I use the excellent Wordle Solver tool to check this kind of thing after I've played. You simply type in the possible letters and it tells you how many words there are that fit that pattern, then lists them. With A-ER, and no other letters ruled in/out, there are 98 options. With an I, it's 73. An O gives you 58 possibles, while U and E both have 26. Not all of those words will be actual Wordle answers, and the options will narrow down as you play different letters, but you can see the scale of the problem.
More danger lies in the fact that even once you work out that it ends in ER, and that it has an O in the second position, there are still 16 possible starting letters and 16 that could be the third letter. That's way too many for you to be able to narrow things down easily in your remaining guesses.
Let's take my game today as an example:
I uncovered the E and R on the first guess, and by the end of the second I'd ruled out two more vowels, A and I, plus five of the most common consonants: S, T, L, N and D.
However, I still had at least 38 possible solutions open to me, according to WordleBot. These included BOXER, COVER, COWER, FEVER, FOYER, GOFER, HOVER, JOKER, MOWER, POWER, ROGER, REFER and UPPER - or in other words, almost all of the remaining letters in the alphabet!
If you play Wordle on Hard mode then this kind of game can be almost impossible to win unless you plan for the possibility and play very, very careful. Even then, you'll probably need some luck along the way.
If you don't play on hard mode, you can at least narrow things down by playing 'throwaway' words that use as many of the remaining letters as possible.
Playing the right ones can be quite a challenge in itself, though. First, I went with FORUM in order to rule in/out F and M, confirm what the second vowel was, and identify whether R could be repeated in the middle of the word. Then, on the fourth guess, I played WHACK in order to rule in/out W, H, C and K.
I was fortunate: if none of those letters had been included, I could still have faced a choice of either BOXER, ROPER, ROVER or ROGER on the next guess. As it was, the K turned yellow, so I knew it had to be either JOKER or POKER, and because I remembered the latter as a past Wordle answer, I was able to escape with a 5/6.
But many others won't be so lucky today. If you're one of them, the tips below might help you fare better next time.
Tips to solve a Wordle like today's
1. Use a good starting word
I will repeat this mantra every time I give advice about Wordle, because it is the single most important step you can take to extend your streak. Many people prefer to use a different word each day, and that's fine - but you have to accept that your chances of failing will increase, on average.
Have a read of my guide to the best Wordle starting words, pick one you like, then stick with it. It's the only way.
2. Identify the ER pattern as early as possible
Given that ER words have so many possible solutions, it's vital that you spot the trap as soon as you can. Obviously you have an advantage if your starter word includes those two letters; mine does, as do the likes of CRATE, CRANE and TRACE. You'll certainly want to have played both of those letters by the end of the second guess, unless you know for sure it's not an ER word (because, for instance, you've already got a green Y at the end).
3. Find the other vowel
The next step is to work out whether it's an -A-ER, -E-ER, -I-ER, -O-ER or -U-ER word. You should be able to combine this with step 4…
4. Narrow down those consonants
Once you know the puzzle ends with ER, on normal mode at least, you can forget about those two letters and start playing others in those spots to narrow things down as quickly as possible. No, you won't score a 3/6 - but that's not going to happen anyway. Your objective is to escape with your streak intact.
5. List your options
On days like this, I find it really helpful to write down as many options as I can think of. That helps me to identify which letters could still be included and therefore which words I should play on my third, fourth and fifth guesses to narrow things down. Look at all of the words you've listed and see which consonants they have in common. If a V appears in six of them and a K in only one then try to include the V first, and so on.
After that, it's simply a case of crossing your fingers and hoping that things work out. And if they don't? Well, take solace in the fact that you won't be the only one to fail on a day like today.