From one Wordler to another, how’s your game? Are you mostly guessing your way through the process, hoping (and praying) you can solve the puzzle before you run out of your six guesses?
Or maybe you are playing reasonably well but wouldn’t mind picking up a few tips that would help you play better.
If so, then this post is for YOU because I’m going to share four strategies that will help you choose words so that every letter maximizes the information that you then use to discover — not guess — the Wordle word of the day.
Sound good? Then let’s get started.
Strategy No. 1: Use Starter Words Based on Letter Frequency
I’m sure you already know how important it is to begin with a good starter word. But what IS a good starter word? Some like to use words like ARISE, RADIO, or AUDIO, which have three or even four vowels. Others prefer to start with a word that prioritizes the Wheel of Fortune list of R, S, T, L, N, and E.
As I said in my previous post, How to Play Wordle (and 5 Reasons You’ll Want to), those are good choices because ALL are in the top 10 letter frequency list of 5-letter words.
What in the Wordle-world is this top 10 letter frequency list?
It’s a list represented as a graph in an article by Behrouz Bakhtiari, assistant professor at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business. In the article, Bakhtiari explains how he used data analysis to create the graph that shows the order all 26 letters occur in 5-letter words, from the most frequent to the least. (Click the link to the article or my previous post to see the graph.)
After that, he then determined, statistically, that the BEST starter word is ARIES. Unfortunately, ARIES is NOT in Wordle’s list of accepted words. But ARISE is!
Notice that the word ARISE has five of the top six letters in 5-letter words. No wonder it’s so widely recommended and used as a starter word.
But then what letters do you have left in the top 10? O, L, T, N, & U. Can you think of a word that uses those letters? I couldn’t. And adding the 11th letter (“D“) doesn’t help either.
Why is this an issue? Because when you’re playing Wordle, you need to think beyond your starter word to what you will use for your second and third words, as well.
Strategy No. 2: Think Like a Golf Pro
Imagine with me that a golfer is playing a par-4 hole. When she steps up to hit the ball from the tee, she may or may not be able to see the flag. But that’s okay. From that distance, she’s not trying to hit a hole-in-one. All she wants to do is land the ball in the center of the fairway, positioning herself for the next shot.
For her second swing, she chooses a club that will give her the best chance to put the ball on the green while avoiding traps. If she’s successful, she may be able to pull off a birdie! But even if her third shot doesn’t end up in the cup, hopefully, she can get the ball close enough for an easy putt on her fourth shot for par.
Don’t play golf? Me, neither. But I know enough about the game to see a remarkable similarity between golf and Wordle. Golf is all about positioning the ball with the first two or three shots for the easy putt at the end. The closer to the hole, the better.
I play Wordle the same way. I don’t just want a great starter word; I want three words that use as many of the top 15 letters in 5-letter words as possible. And three words I’ve found that do this almost perfectly are STALE (or SLATE), ROUND, and CHIMP. I don’t always need to play all three, but when I do, afterward, I will know the status of 15 of the top 16 letters most frequently used in 5-letter words. And trust me, that is a BIG deal!
Want to see this in action? Take a look at the puzzles below:
Example 1 – Puzzle #296 on 4/11/2022
What would you do if you got the above? Enter a word that begins with an S and has an A somewhere other than the third letter? If you do, you’re wasting guesses (tries) because you don’t yet know enough. The better play to make here is to use a second word with five more unique letters:
Now look what we have learned: The word is S_U_D and either the second or fourth letter is an A. Playing strategically like this often narrows it down quickly. At this point, we have enough info to go to work solving the puzzle.
First, I considered SAU_D, but since I couldn’t come up with a word with any of the remaining letters, I decided it must be S_UAD. That left only one choice that I could see: SQUAD.
Yep, it was SQUAD for the easy birdie.
Example 2 – Puzzle #320 on 5/5/2022
In most every Wordle puzzle I play, I have to stop after my first two words and carefully consider my situation. In the first example, I had three green squares and one yellow. But in this example, I only have two yellow squares and one green. And generally speaking, that’s not enough to go on.
So here is where I will spend a few minutes looking for words that might be the answer. If I think of more than two or three, or I’m not sure that I’ve covered all the possibilities, I use CHIMP — it’s that simple.
I now know all five letters. So the word must be HOMER.
Could I have come up with HOMER on my third guess without using CHIMP? Possibly. But I would have had to work a lot harder at figuring it out. And if I found more than two words in the process, I would have risked running out of tries before guessing the right word. Remember: The more you know, the easier (and quicker) it is to solve the puzzle.
Strategy No. 3: Play Counter-Intuitively
One of the hardest puzzles to solve is one like this:
Example 3 – Puzzle #293 on 4/8/2022
It’s great anytime you turn up three green squares right off the bat. But how many words can you make from S_A_E? A LOT!
If you use H for the second letter (SHA_E), then six letters would work for the fourth letter of the word: D, K, M, P, R, and V. If you use P for the second letter (SPA_E), then there are three: C, D, and R.
So what do you do? Cross your fingers and start guessing? No, you play counter-intuitively. Here’s how:
First, don’t even think about playing S_A_E, replacing the underscores with letters that work. Instead, think of a word that uses as many of the letters you’ve identified as possibilities as you can.
For this puzzle, I chose CHORD for three reasons:
- Using the H would tell me which group my answer was in.
- Using R and D would make up for NOT using ROUND.
- The C would let me know if my word was SPACE.
Wow! What a winner! CHORD handed me the answer: SCARE.
Do you see what happened? I didn’t even think of using C for my second letter. But CHORD uncovered it for me for the easy birdie with NO guessing required. 🙂
Strategy No. 4: Work with the Ending First
When I began playing Wordle in late January, the only strategy I knew was that you needed a good starter word. I remembered the Wheel of Fortune list, having watched the show in the past. So I decided to use STALE because it had five of the top 10 letters on that list.
That was it, though, as far as strategies. Then, one day I realized — and even said so to David — that I had been figuring out the word (answer) by working out the ending first. It wasn’t something I set out to do, and I had never heard of anyone else doing it; it was simply the easiest way to come up with a word from the clues I had at that point in the game.
And it still is — especially when I’ve positioned myself well using the first three strategies, and all that’s left is to solve the puzzle.
Here’s an example:
Example 4 – Puzzle #326 on 5/11/2022
I didn’t hesitate after I entered ROUND, knowing the yellow R and A and the green E left me with too many possible words. So I entered CHIMP and then went to work to solve the puzzle.
- The A had to be the first or second letter because I wasn’t aware of a word that ended with AE. (In other words, I narrowed down A‘s position in the word by first seeing that AE would not work.)
- CE or RE were good possibilities, so would _ACRE or A_CRE work? Nope, I didn’t see anything after scanning through the remaining letters.
- I then flipped CR to RC and did another quick scan looking for _ARCE. FARCE was the only option I saw. So I went with it.
FARCE it was for another quick and easy par. (I solved the puzzle in less than five minutes.)
According to Bakhtiari, there are 15,000 5-letter words in the English dictionary. While not all 15,000 are in Wordle’s list of accepted words, even if you eliminate a third of them, that still leaves a LOT of words. So any strategy that helps narrow the odds is a good thing — which is what these four strategies have done for my game and why I wanted to share them with you.
Initially, I was concerned that using the three words, STALE, ROUND, and CHIMP, might take the fun out of the game, but it’s had the opposite effect. While the game will always be challenging, I enjoy it even more now that I have these new tools.
And that is my hope for you: that by using these four strategies, you, too, will play better, guess less, and most of all — HAVE MORE FUN!