The New York Times Buys Viral Sensation ‘Wordle’

Chances are that for the past couple of months you’ve been captivated by a simple word-guessing game called Wordle, and if not you’ve at the very least seen the mysterious grid of colored boxes being shared on social media platforms. And if neither of those things are true, then consider yourself officially out of the loop as Wordle has risen to Flappy Bird levels of popularity beginning late last year. Like so many others I became aware of Wordle over the holidays and it has become a part of my daily routine that I look forward to every day. In it you have 6 chances to guess a 5 letter word, with each guess hopefully giving you clues as to whether the letters in your guess are part of the actual answer or are in the correct position.

The story behind Wordle’s creation is very cute too, as software engineer Josh Wardle initially made the game solely for his partner before opening it up to the world in October of last year. The aforementioned mysterious grid of colored boxes is actually a way for people to share their results of each day’s puzzle without spoiling the answer. There is only one puzzle per day, and everybody plays the same one. It’s those aspects that many feel have made Wordle the viral sensation it is, as it’s become sort of a shared experience with anyone and everyone who is playing.

Beyond that, Wordle is a web app and there is no official native app in any app store. There are no ads, in-app purchasing, or any other forms of monetization in play. It’s simply a fun and free thing that exists for people to enjoy. That, coupled with the organic rise of the game and the nature of its initial creation, has given people a really personal attachment to Wordle as it’s one of the only truly pure things in this oh-so-cruel world we live in. That’s also probably why there was such a collective sinking feeling online this afternoon when creator Josh Wardle announced that he had officially sold Wordle to The New York Times.

It’s kind of a wonder that Wardle hadn’t done anything sooner. His refusal to put ads or any other form of monetization in the game, and his ability to turn down everybody under the sun that was scrambling to buy the game from him during its rise showed how much he actually cared about it. But he is also just one person, and Wordle had grown from something that started as a breezy side-project into a juggernaut that was becoming impossible for a single person to continue maintaining. How long it took for Wardle to sell and his choice of The New York Times as its new owner tell me that this wasn’t someone cashing in on a fad but someone wanting his baby to go to someone that will care for it the way he had.

The New York Times is a publication that respects word and logic games, and its daily crossword that’s been running since the 1940s is an icon. Wordle will fit right into its lineup alongside the also very popular Spelling Bee game. In the Times’ announcement of their purchase, they very carefully state that “At the time it moves to The New York Times, Wordle will be free to play for new and existing players, and no changes will be made to its gameplay." The Times requires players to have a subscription to play their Crosswords, Spelling Bee, and handful of other games, and while it sounds like the game will remain free initially, there’s no doubt Wordle will also live behind that subscription wall at some point.

This is largely the reason behind that collective sinking feeling I talked about before. I don’t think anyone is upset seeing Wardle getting a payday for his creation, and I don’t think anyone doesn’t consider The Times as a respected home for word games. It’s that this pure thing that was collectively enjoyed by so many will now potentially be sullied, and that’s a bummer. I guess at the very least we’ll probably get an official Wordle app out of this. For the time being you can still play the game for free on its original website.