Wordle Hard Mode is easier than normal mode – seriously

Wordle game iPhone screen NYTimes.com website. Daily WORDLE puzzle on a smartphone and on computer monitor.
(Image credit: Shutterstock / DVKi)

Whenever I get stuck in Wordle, I simply reach into my bag of unused letters, scrounge up a decent five-letter word, and smash it onto the game board. It's essentially a waste of a turn but at least I, one would hope, have more letters to work with. Now, I know though, this is a mistake.

Wordle Hard Mode is the best way to play to win.

My logic is simple. While I've been casually throwing away one or two turns (out of a paltry six) to collect all the right letters, I could've been harder on myself and my brain, wasted nothing, and, perhaps, found all those past Wordle answers in fewer attempts.

Granted, I only recently started using Wordle's Hard Mode on my daily Wordle quest, and only after some casual social media shaming.

Here's how it happened. Every evening, my wife and I sit down to Wordle together. It's our thing. However, I recently broke the habit when our Wordle Expert and UK Editor in Chief Marc McLaren wrote about how a recent Wordle round marked the start of a new era. Intrigued, I started to read McLaren's post but hesitated for fear he might spoil the day's game. He didn't, expertly hiding spoilers behind collapsed text blocks.

Even so, I really wanted to know about the change, so I solved this very tough Wordle (the word was "Guano") without my wife by my side and then read the post. Turns out this was the first word not part of Wordle creator Josh Wardle's initial word list. I also thought it might not even be English.

When I posted my results on Twitter (without spoilers, naturally) and noted the difficulty of solving the day's puzzle, someone shouted from the Twitter rafters something like, "you should really play on hard mode."

I knew about Wordle Hard Mode, which insists that every turn use all the letters guessed on the previous turn. I initially dismissed it when I began playing Wordle over a year ago, thinking the game was hard enough and I didn't need that stress in my life.

Now, though, I felt a little embarrassed. Was I celebrating relatively easy wins on Wordle? Are real wordsmiths always playing in Hard Mode?

I made the decision that day to switch. The control, by the way, is accessible after you hit "Play" on the Wordle page. From there, you select the Settings icon (it looks like a gear) and the "Hard Mode."

Wordle Hard Mode

(Image credit: Future)

Back at home, I first shared with my wife that I'd already solved the day's Wordle. She didn't look pleased but before she could respond, I added that I was switching to Hard Mode.

Here's where I learned that a lot of Wordle players are unaware of this option and what it means for gameplay.

"So you're playing a different version of Wordle?"

"No," I told her.

"We'll have different words? Are we done playing together?"

I assured her that was not the case and then explained how we'd have the same words but I'd have stricter gameplay rules.

She gave me one of her trademark "you're an idiot" looks and dropped the subject.

The next night, we sat on opposite couches and declared it "Wordle time."

"So where is this 'Hard Mode'?" my wife asked, because she is nothing if not competitive.

I guided her to the change and we started playing.

"This is not fun," my wife said as we started working through the daily Wordle puzzle.

I, though, was having a different experience.

After my first turn and word, I think I used my go-to "crate," and got one letter in the wrong place, I spent far longer than normal thinking of what might come next with just that letter. My brain was quickly sorting out all the words that could not possibly fit.

On the second turn, I had three letters but all in the wrong place.

Now came the real struggle. Your options are far narrower when you must work with three out of five letters. On turn three, I stumbled a bit. I added no new letters but at least I moved one character into the right position.

Finally, I solved it in four (It was "Hurry"). I grinned to myself.

I looked over at my wife who had the opposite expression.

Well, I thought, there's no going back now.

The next day, I solved "Beset" in three. In my book, solving Wordle in one is pure luck, Wordle in two is a level of brilliance, and three is a nice balance of strategy and smarts.

If I were playing in normal mode, I'm pretty sure it would've taken me longer to get what I consider a fairly odd and difficult world (I think double-letter ones can be the worst).

Plus, something really interesting happened during this game. I recall trying to use a number of real words on the third turn (all included what I thought were the two letters I'd collected) and all were rejected. I wasn't paying attention to the Wordle prompt each time I entered a word guess. It was telling me I had to use all the guessed letters.

Turns out I had put in a word with two "e"s and Wordle was literally telling me I had three right letters and two were in the wrong place. I simply didn't understand that the green "e" and the orange "e" represented two distinct letters in the word puzzle (despite Wordle telling me this over and over) and I kept entering words with just one "e."

As soon as I realized this, I hit upon the right word.

Honestly, Hard Mode may be easier than easy mode. Take this game. Had I put in those real words in normal or easy mode, Wordle would have accepted them but as wrong guesses. I might have guessed wrong at least twice before getting the right word.

That's my epiphany. I've been playing the easy hard way all along. From now on, I'll do it the hard way and probably be more successful than ever at Wordle.

P.S. My wife still hates Hard Mode.

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 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 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.