Wordle has dominated our timelines and family group chats over the past month. It’s fun to test your own lexical mettle each day, guessing the newest five-letter word in six or less tries; it’s more fun to brag about how good you are, and make your friends and family bow down to your intellect as a result.
What, just me? Or, at least, I wish that were me. I’m not an all-star Wordler, but are some budding world champs out there, as I found out when I asked people to share their longest winning streaks. Spencer Evans was the one whose accomplishment impressed me the most: 83 unbroken wins and counting. A wordsmith himself, Evans first discovered Wordle earlier this month. Almost immediately, he went back and played through the entire puzzles archive and racked up win after win after win, cataloguing each and every one on Twitter. Now that he’s caught up with the rest of us daily players, his streak continues to grow.
I reached out to Evans via email to ask about just how he manages to be this good at this guessing game, what tips he has for the rest of us, and if (knock-on-wood) failing to solve a puzzle one of these days will make him swear off Wordle for good. Our edited conversation is below.
How did you get into Wordle?
I started seeing these inexplicable little squares all over Twitter, and I had no idea what was going on. I knew they were somehow related to a game, but I could not, for the life of me, figure out how it worked. After a few days, I caved, checked out the website, and was immediately hooked; here we are, 200-plus puzzles later.
What’s your longest winning streak so far?
My current streak, as of Wordle 221, is 83 [wins]. My previous streaks were 60 and 67.
Does that mean you’ve been playing for 83 days straight?!
I have not been playing for 83 days straight. I use a tool that allows you to play previous puzzles, so I’ve played all 221 puzzles so far, with 83 in a row correct, but I actually started playing with Wordle 202 (which I believe was January 7th). You can actually achieve the same result by changing the date on your computer, and the corresponding Wordle will appear, but this tool makes things a little simpler, and there are now a bunch out there like it.
You have an impressive way of tracking all of your Wordle stats. Walk us through that.
The Twitter thread was just the method of archivism that made the most sense to me; it felt intuitive to have everything in one readily accessible place. I [also] made my own graph—based on the one that pops up after a puzzle—simply because Wordle, unfortunately, can’t keep track of my progress due to some browser privacy settings that I have in place. If I wanted to know how I was doing, I was going to have to document progress through the old words myself, and the setup in Excel took all of five minutes (though I’ll note that getting the graph to look just right was more challenging than I had anticipated or would care to admit). There was no way I wasn’t going to know whether my 2s and 3s outnumbered my 5s and 6s, though, so it was worth one night of tedious scrolling and counting.
Okay, what’s your secret???? Give us a good player’s tip!
I guess my secret, to the extent that I have one, is just that I’ve always loved words, even as a child. I am fascinated by the minutiae of grammar, relish every aspect of the writing process, and have always had vocabulary come very naturally to me. It’s a little tricky giving advice, because there’s no one technique that will work best for everyone; the most important thing is to know yourself, and develop consistency accordingly. For instance, the easiest way for me to play is considered to be the game’s “Hard Mode” (which I constantly forget to turn on; it’s cost me a row or two more than a few times), and I know a lot of people wouldn’t dream of playing under those restrictions. Conversely, I can’t bring myself to guess a word I know for a fact is wrong in the interest of eliminating letters; I’d much prefer to let remaining options eliminate themselves based on the viability of possible words.
All that said, there are a few things that just make practical sense. I generally like to include two vowels in each of the first two rows, depending on how the guesses go and locations of letters turn up, but, again, figure out what works for you; I have a set word that I will always use if none of the letters in my first word are involved, and others if certain initial letters turn up yellow. I will add that “u” is the most powerful (and underappreciated!) letter in the game, as it’s the only one whose elimination rules out two options. Also, I’ve heard that donating to and/or working with mutual aid organizations drastically improves your chances of winning.
Do you have a go-to starting word?
I use the same word every time, and will continue to do so after it eventually becomes the daily solution; I came up with it myself towards the beginning of my run, and am awfully fond of it. It’s perfectly balanced with ubiquitous letters—some in odd, telling spots—and a letter that’s just unusual enough to be worth including at the start. It also nicely sets up a second word in the event that none of its letters appear that day. Spoilers for anyone who doesn’t want to see it (it turns the blank-colored boxes into a decoder for each day): It’s “PARSE,” and I will absolutely die on its hill.
Are you surprised that you’ve been able to keep your win streak going for so long?
There’s no great way to put this, but I genuinely never considered the streak initially, for no other reason than I didn’t think I would lose a game; I’m more surprised that [my first win streak] ended in the first place. After my initial loss, I was more upset at a puzzle I felt was unreasonable than the fact that my streak was ending. The nature of Wordle is such that you can always build another, longer streak even after you lose (as is the case with my current one), so it wasn’t something of which I was cognizant until I heard someone else was interested. My mentality going into any puzzle at this point is that I’m going to win before the fifth row; it would be weird to me to play a word game worrying about winning in order to preserve something.
Other than the puzzles that broke your streak, were there any others that came close to throwing you?
I noted this in my archives thread, but I’m a little surprised that Wordle took off the way that it did, because some of the early puzzles were ROUGH. I abhor spoilers or hints of any kind, so I won’t get specific, but there’s one in the first 10 that’s pretty scary, and somewhere between 130 and 140 is one with real potential for dismay. I currently have 19 6/6s, but most of those were sure things by the end. Hands down the most terrified I’ve been playing Wordle came in the 110s; one of my losses occurred there, and it came down to a situation where there were three viable solutions on the last row, and I just happened to guess wrong, which is part of the game. I followed up that little fiasco, however, with a 6/6; it wasn’t a particularly tough word, as I really just got unlucky, but I was definitely sweating at the prospect of back-to-back losses.
If you do break your streak again, would you consider quitting the game? Why or why not?
Provided Wordle stays true to the fundamentals of its current iteration, under no circumstances will I stop playing this game. I’m almost certain there’s somebody out there right now with a longer streak than mine, and, on the off-chance that there isn’t, someone who either hasn’t started playing or is yet to discover one of the many methods of running through the archives (shout out to Genie Lauren on Twitter for showing me the tool I used) is going to top it. I’ve lost three times, and two of those were just a numbers game, with more possibilities than I had remaining guesses, and I happened to come up short; the chances of others getting both of those right are pretty good, so it really is just a matter of time. All that to say, the maintenance, length, or purported peerlessness of some streak isn’t even a factor behind why I play Wordle; it’s just a wonderful little game! It’s beautifully simple, uniquely wholesome in its collective experience, and a lot of people, myself included, get a measure of joy (and, dare I say, sense of accomplishment?)—however relatively small—from this silly daily word puzzle; that’s not insignificant in 2022. Even the name is cute! Admittedly, however, I would be a little bummed if I drop the ball now that you’ve taken the time to write an article about this streak.
A lot of folks told me that they would give up if they break their long streaks. What do you make of them?
There’s no one way to play the game. Who am I to legislate someone’s reaction to what they consider a huge letdown? If you’re in it for the streaks, or completing the puzzle in as little time as possible, you do you! Personally, I would wish that someone’s enjoyment of Wordle not be tied to an aspect of the game that could end, or in which they could falter, but if somebody no longer has fun with this particular game, they won’t exactly want for others. May their streaks never end. As long as you don’t belittle anyone who has a different relationship to the game than you, there’s nothing wrong with any given experience; the one exception whose experience is absolutely invalid is the tech jerk who blatantly ripped off the game in an attempt to deceive people on the Apple store and shamelessly monetize what was clearly designed to be a communal resource. Don’t be that guy, ever.
Do you participate in any Wordle communities to discuss daily challenges or stats? What do those look like, or what would you want them to look like?
I know that there’s one such community on Twitter with about 1,600 members. There’s some discussion—regarding streaks, archives, news, and the like—but it’s mostly just people posting results, sometimes with commentary, and others responding with encouragement. I think it could be fun to see that blossom into an open-source space for those interested in developing quality-of-life additions to the game (for instance, I know there are some who would jump at the chance to have a native timer track how quickly completion is achieved, as they’re more concerned with speed than guess efficiency), but would be perfectly contented with it remaining the pleasant corner of Twitter as which it currently serves.
Are you this good at other games, like video games and board games? Or is there just something about Wordle that unlocked your latent champion?
I don’t think I’m all that great at Wordle! What I will say is that I’ve loved all kinds of games my entire life. I played a ton of board games growing up (and do to this day), adore anything to do with cards, was rated around 1,400 in chess at one point, am perpetually down for a rousing round of Scrabble or Scattergories, and absolutely enjoy a good video game (exclusively on the hardest difficulty), but I wouldn’t say I’m stellar at any of those. I do fancy myself pretty formidable at Snatch and Bananagrams, where there’s obviously some overlap with Wordle. The one game in which I will unabashedly claim top-tier talent is beer die, though I’ve no doubt there are some close friends and family who would have something to say about that.
What is it about Wordle that makes you particularly proud of your success?
I don’t know that I’d say I’m notably proud of what I’ve done with the game, but I do love the community aspect that is fundamental to the experience. I’m a stalwart believer in building community in extensively varied contexts, and Wordle is no exception. The game encourages you to share your escapades with others, not to unlock extra puzzles or earn better scores (to the downright bewilderment of some online), but to foster connections between those who have similarly participated. A few years ago, podcast host Katie Nolan pointed out that Game of Thrones was the first true shared pop culture phenomenon that society had embraced in a while, and acknowledged that we might not enjoy something like it again; I think Wordle offers shades of that elusive collectiveness, and we can rest assured that it won’t flub the last two seasons.