Why did Wordle go viral?

If you’re on the same side of TikTok as me, you’ve probably heard about Wordle. It’s so popular that Google created a custom Wordle logo that shows up when you search for the game.

The rules of Wordle are simple: guess what the five-letter word of the day is using hints that the game provides. (If you’re just getting started, these tips are especially helpful.)

This internet-based word game really shouldn’t be as big of a deal as it is. It doesn’t have an app. You can only play once a day. Wordle doesn’t have the building blocks of a viral game, but it has defied the laws of physics (or marketing) and gone viral nonetheless.

Why does this little game have such a chokehold on us right now?

Why Wordle works

I’m an aficionado of app-based word games. My origin story begins with Words with Friends back in middle school when I would play (and lose to) my dad. Then, I evolved to the likes of Wordscapes, WordBrain, and Word Stacks, all of which involve making words out of a jumble of letters. My most recent phase is the NYT Daily Crossword Mini Puzzle.

I can get obsessed with these games, and I have. My favorite trick right is to put on an audiobook or a podcast while I play for at least an hour before bed. The audio helps me feel like I’m doing something useful with my time when, in reality, I’m screwing around with my nerdy little word games.

On a good night, I can go through maybe 10-15 rounds of these games. I have to force my phone out of my hand before collapsing into sleep.

This is where Wordle actually makes sense. The fact that we can only play Wordle once per day means that we spend most of the day looking forward to it. Wordle has created a perfect system: we get a dose of dopamine from playing, then have to wait through a drought in order to receive the next hit.

That makes it sound kind of nefarious, but I don’t think it is. I think it’s brilliant.

Post-script: a few links I love