Best Words and Tips for Starting Wordle: What I Learned Playing for a Year Straight
What a year it’s been for Wordle. Software engineer Josh Wardle took the game public in 2021 and The New York Times bought it for a whopping seven figures in January 2022. I don’t think I’ve started a day without her since. Or, should I say, finished one day…the Times publishes a new riddle at midnight, and I’m usually up by that time. Solving Wordle is one of the last things I do before I fall asleep.
I’d go so far as to say Wordle, more than any TV show, movie, book, or podcast, has been my favorite pop culture escape of 2022. I’m not sweating about the footage — if I’m swaying for fences at the last estimate and missed, huh, who cares? Also, I’m not big on sharing my results. I’m never interested in how long it took someone else to get the answer, and I guess they’re not interested in me either.
But I’m interested in tips and tricks and the best starting words to solve the puzzle. I think it’s normal to change strategies over time — and I know that the more I played, the more refined my strategy became. Here’s what I learned from a year of near-obsessive Wordleing.
1. First words are so important
You can start guessing with any word, but mentally I need a good solid word to start strong. I used to use ADIEU, the most basic of basic words, because I liked having so many vowels. But after a year of playing, I decided I liked to mix popular consonants. My favorite entry is TRAIN, which gives me some of the most used consonants, plus two vowels. I tend to go next to CLOSE, then BUMPY. But sometimes TRAIN gives me so many letters that I start guessing right away with a word that seems to match the pattern.
Readers sent me some of their favorite combos, which I keep in my back pocket for when I want to switch things up. Interestingly, two of their seed words start with “TR”, as does my spare word, TRAIN.
Follow the TREND
From Randy: “TREND is always the first word. If there’s no E, then GHOUL. If there’s an E, I go to JAMBS. The last word is PICKY.”
Later, Randy changed things up a bit: “I really like TREND, FLASH, GUMBO, PICKY. Like ‘Wheel of Fortune’, RSTINE is in TREND and FLASH. Four words, all letters except QWZXVJ.”
Stay on the TRAIL
Jeff was on a 206-game streak when he dispatched his top three starters, which were originally TRAIL, CONES and DUMPY.
He then changed CONES to SCONE, noting that in Wordle, “S” almost never appears at the end of a word, since NYT editors have publicly stated that they will not use regular plurals (which means the word will never be a simple plural, like FOXES or SPOTS, words that simply add an S or an ES to a singular word. But it can be a more complex plural, like GEESE).
Rusty said he was lucky with his first name as the first starting word.
“The top three should be RUSTY, PLACE, BOING or BOINK,” he said. “That last word depends on whether there is a C or an L that has already been matched.”
And my best friend, Lisa, a dedicated Wordle player, is doing really well these days with ROAST as her starting word. Sometimes, for variety, it starts with BEAST.
2. Remember that letters can be used multiple times
I’ve been guilty of thinking Wordle words don’t repeat letters. This is simply wrong – they do. Just because the puzzle tells me there’s, say, an E in the last space doesn’t mean there can’t be another E somewhere. I used to get stuck on the idea of not trying letters again once they were identified as being in the word. I try not to think that way now.
3. Some words start with vowels
That’s probably a big DUH for most of you, but I tend to get stuck on the idea that a word has to start with a consonant. That’s a big mistake on my part – and ERROR would actually be a good starting vowel, especially if I already had an R but didn’t know where it was. I also sometimes fall into the trap of guessing “consonant, vowel”, when in reality many words start with two consonants – BR, WH, that sort of combo.
4. Remember Y
Remember that old “sometimes Y” vowel rule. Y can be a vowel, so if you’re frustrated that AEIO and U aren’t showing up, think Y. The word could be NYMPH or CRYPT or one of many other options. Or maybe Y isn’t the only vowel but its location confuses you. I like BUMPY to get Y in the guess spin, to check if the word ends in it.
5. Test your guesses
The most useful thing for me, after having a good seed word or two, is to use the grid itself. I like to type possibilities in the Wordle grid using an “X” where I don’t know the letter. Maybe I know the word ends in “ER” and there’s a D somewhere in there. So I could type in DXXER and then try to figure it out from there. (DIVER?) If I don’t see anything, I retype with the D somewhere else. And I try to remember that there could be more than one D, E or R.
I choose an X because I like typing it directly into the Wordle grid, and X looks the most like a blank to me. Since these guesses aren’t really words, there’s no chance of me accidentally hitting enter and wasting a guess by mistake.
6. Give yourself time
My last lesson of a year doing Wordle? Give yourself time. This game has no timer. If I wake up at midnight and have three guesses and I’m confused, I turn off my light and sleep on it. Sometimes taking a fresh look in the morning is all I need to see the answer.
And if you don’t plan on cheating with online help, you can try a site like Crossword Solver, where you tell it you’re looking for a five-letter word, then type in the letters you have. It only really helps if you know what position at least two letters are in, but if you have good beginners, you’ll do this often.
Here’s to another year of starting words and new strategies. I’m sure I’ll change everything in 2023.
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