Josh Wardle, a software engineer in Brooklyn, knew his partner loved word games, so he made a guessing game just for the two of them. He named him as a reference to his last name Wortle.

But after the couple played for months and it quickly became an obsession in his family’s WhatsApp group when introducing it to relatives, Mr. Wardle thought he might be on to something and released it to the rest of the world in October .

On November 1st, 90 people played.

On Sunday, a little over two months later, more than 300,000 people were playing.

It’s been a meteoric rise for the once-a-day game that invites players to guess a five-letter word, much like the guess-the-color game Mastermind. After guessing a five letter word, the game will tell you whether one of your letters is in the secret word and whether it is in the right place. You have six tries to get it right.

Few of the popular corners of the internet are as straightforward as the website that Mr. Wardle created himself as a side project. There are no ads or blinking banners; don’t open windows or ask for money. There is only the game on a black background.

“I think people appreciate that there is something online that is just fun,” said Mr. Wardle in an interview on Monday. “It doesn’t try to do anything shady with your data or your eyeballs. It’s just a game that is fun. “

This is not the first time Mr. Wardle has suddenly attracted a lot of attention. He used to be a software engineer for Reddit and has two collaborative social experiments on the website called. created The key and placethat every phenomenon was in its moment.

But Wordle was built without a team of engineers. It was just him and his partner Palak Shah killing time during a pandemic.

Mr Wardle said he first made a similar prototype in 2013, but his friends were unfazed and he abandoned the idea. In 2020 he and Ms. Shah got to know the New York Times “very well” Spelling Contest and the daily crossword puzzle“I wanted to think of a game that she would enjoy,” he said.

The breakthrough, he said, was limiting players to one game a day. This heightened a sense of scarcity, which he believes was partly inspired by the Spelling Bee, which makes people want more, he said.

Word games have proven their worth immensely popular for The Times and other businesses in the past few years, and many like the Spelling Bee have grown loyal fan bases.

But since Wordle was originally only developed for Mr. Wardle and Ms. Shah, the original design ignored many of the growth hacking features that are practically expected of games in the current era. While other games send notifications to your phone in hopes that you’ll come back later in the day, Wordle doesn’t want an intense relationship.

“It’s something that encourages you to spend three minutes a day,” he said. “And that’s it. It doesn’t want any more of your time than that.”

Wordle did not have the opportunity to share results until mid-December. Mr. Wardle noted that players shared their results by typing in a grid of green, yellow, and black emojis.

If he was tweaking the game to get as many players as possible, he would have included a link at the end of the tweet the tool generates, he said. But after looking at it, he said it looked “trashy” and not so visually convincing, and he liked the mysterious atmosphere of the grille which had piqued people’s interest.

While Ms. Shah was the lucky recipient of the first game, she played a key role in making it available to the public, Mr. Wardle said. An initial list of all five-letter words in the English language – about 12,000 – contained many obscure words that would have been hard to guess.

So he developed another game for Ms. Shah: This time she would go through those 12,000 or so words and determine whether she knew them or not. This narrowed the list of Wordle words to around 2,500, which should take a few years. (Just a few words annoyed fans: some were annoyed with REBUS and TAPIR because they said they weren’t familiar enough.)

Ms. Shah says that she wakes up every day with a new routine: she warms up with the Spelling Bee, which is what sets her right on Wordle. She also loves the New York Times and crosswords cryptic crossword puzzle.

Although Wordle is now shared with the world, she said she appreciated that Mr. Wardle originally created it for her.

“It’s really cute,” she said. “This is definitely how Josh shows his love.”

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