Video Games

LOSER

When you fail at Wordle for the first time, it may affect you more than you think.

A faux-Wordle grid where every line says "LOSER."
Illustration by Slate.

It was WATCH that took me down. On March 11, at precisely 12:21 a.m.—I know because I took a screenshot to commemorate the exact moment of my disgrace—I lost Wordle for the first time.

If you haven’t had to go through this particular indignity, I’ll tell you: There’s something about losing at Wordle that stings a little differently than any other defeat. You feel deprived of that little dopamine hit you were counting on. An internal monologue where you have to talk yourself through the five stages of grief becomes necessary.

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After I joined the losers’ club, I sought to find others like me. It turns out there are many of us—and we are not OK.

Blane Daugherty, a 20-year-old student at Texas A&M University, said he’ll never forget losing on SWILL, or the way a friend tormented him afterward. “She kept using the word in a sentence,” he said. “I was like, ‘You gotta stop.’ ”

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Tanner Johnson, a 28-year-old sales agronomist in Prairie Farm, Wisconsin, went so far as to declare Wordle retirement after his first loss, on AHEAD. “I was like, ‘Oh, OK. I can quit,’ ” he said. “And I haven’t played it since.”

The word that thwarted Xavier Washington, a 22-year-old student at Mississippi State University, was KNOLL, which, he was quick to point out, trickily has both a K and a double letter in it. “I think about that day, ’cause I’m like, ‘Ugh, that was the one time,’ ” he said. “That was the score that got away. And now my little percentage says 98 percent instead of 100.”

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The Wordle craze has calmed down since the heady days of January and February, and the honeymoon period is over: Maybe you, too, have endured your first loss. Maybe you’ve lost a bunch of times. Or maybe your first loss is still ahead of you. (And I assure you, it’s coming.) Whatever your situation, there’s an acute shame to losing at Wordle that has gone underdiscussed amid the seemingly endless scroll of winning grids on social media and text chains. Maybe it’s time for us Wordle losers to stop suffering in silence.

It’s Wordle’s simplicity that made it such a sensation in the first place, but that simplicity can come back to bite you. “I was disappointed in myself because I couldn’t guess a five-letter word,” said Johnson, the retiree. “Because when you say it like that, it shouldn’t be a very complicated task.”

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It’s not unheard of, and in fact it’s very possible, to win at Wordle every day. It becomes routine, expected. And it looks like everyone around you is winning every day too—so much so that it surprises some people that losing is even a possibility.

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“My husband is one of those people, because I told him I lost at Wordle, and he was like, ‘People lose Wordle?’ ” said Shannon A. Thompson, 30, a young adult author in Kansas City, Missouri, who described herself as “devastated” after her first loss—but the kind of devastated where you know it’s slightly ridiculous to be devastated.

Sarah Schneeberger, a 28-year-old in Denver who works in administration at a consulting firm, told me she felt a secret sense of superiority about the winning streak she was on through much of the winter. “I had such high hopes that I would be one of the few who never lose,” she said. “My friends have all lost. It’s the least big deal.” But when it happened, it hurt. Her friends with whom she talks about the game “saw that I took it hard,” Schneeberger said. “I was kind of like, I’m in the fetal position over in the corner.”

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Schneeberger, like many of us, knew rationally that her time would come eventually, but she didn’t quite believe it until it did.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that phrase—it’s been on TikTok a lot—that says, ‘Oh, am I … better than everyone?,’ ” Schneeberger said. “I always kinda felt like that.”

When I lost for the first time, I took a little comfort in not being alone: So many people lost on WATCH that the Daily Mail ran an article about the uproar it caused. I asked Schneeberger, whose tragic loss also came that day, if that helped at all: “Not really, if I’m being honest, because there’s been some hard ones in the past and I always thought, ‘Haha! Well I got that one,’ ” she said.

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“I will say, after having lost the first time, I’ve lost again, and that second loss does not hurt nearly as much as that first one,” she added.

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Us newly minted Wordle losers have something to learn from another rarefied group: the people who lose all the time and have more or less come to terms with it.

“There was a particularly difficult day and all these people I knew were like, ‘Oh God, I lost Wordle today. I’m devastated,’ ” remembered Doug Dodson, a 39-year-old classical singer in Atlanta. “I was just like, ‘Oh, that’s very normal for me.’ ”

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Dodson said he even finds it amusing to occasionally post his losing grids on social media: “If I didn’t get it in some spectacularly embarrassing way, I will share it.”

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“There was one where I got the first, third, and fourth letters correct on the first try and then never was able to fill in either of the other two letters,” Dodson said. When that happened, a friend was so baffled at how he still managed to lose that she reached out to him. “She was like, ‘I would love to know what words you guessed,’ ” he said.

Eric Allix Rogers, a 36-year-old who works at a nonprofit in Chicago and is a multiple-time Wordle loser, said he believes in sharing his losses online for almost philosophical reasons: “It violates that expectation of curating an image of success and perfection on social media, the posting your Ls.

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For people like Dodson, everyone else winning all the time can be a bit mystifying: “My brain isn’t set up for the way the game operates,” he said.

Jennifer Robertson, a 27-year-old nurse in New York City, agreed: “I don’t know how it’s so easy for some people. It really blows my mind.” When asked how often she’s lost the game, she said, “I think it’s probably honestly a majority of the times.”

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My friend Laura Mayer, who runs a podcast development studio in Brooklyn, admitted over email, “I’m concerned that revealing this fact will make it so that I can never be president, but my win rate is only 65 percent.”

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Even for habitual losers, an L can still dampen one’s mood: When she doesn’t get the word, “it feels like I am not only failing at the game, but failing myself,” Mayer wrote.

Why continue playing then? For Mayer, “I feel compelled to play Wordle every day in the way that I used to feel compelled to smoke a cigarette every morning. I hate losing, but I can’t not do it.”

Robertson, another self-proclaimed addict, has lately found a hack of sorts: She’ll start on her work computer and switch to her phone for more guesses. “Today I did that technique and then I got MOVIE in the third or fourth try,” she said. “But really it was like my seventh try, or eighth try.” It’s important to switch after your fifth try, she stressed, because if you get to the sixth and don’t get it, the game is over because Wordle automatically tells you the word. Interesting. All I’ll say is: Good to know.

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