Having only been released in October 2021, Wordle, the web-based word game has exploded in popularity. So much so that the New York Times bought the game from its developer Josh Wardle (No, seriously!) for an extraordinary undisclosed seven-figure sum and moved the game to its website.

The gameplay is as follows: every day, a five-letter word is chosen which players aim to guess within six tries. After every guess, each letter is marked as either green, yellow or grey: green indicates that the letter is correct and in the correct position, yellow means it is in the answer but not in the right position, while grey indicates it is not in the answer at all.

At first glance, the game appears to be one of language and vocabulary, much to the relief of us arts students. However, UCD Professor Barry Smyth who is the Digital Chair at the UCD School of Computer Science had a crack at analysing the beloved game and found many interesting results including the trends of new players, the ever-changing difficulty of the game and of course, what you’re all here for, tips on how to improve your game.

It was in preparation for his Data Science in Practice module with 3rd-year data science students in the School of Computer Science that Professor Smyth chose Wordle as his bootcamp project with the class describing it as ‘an obvious candidate.’ He told the College Tribune ‘once you start digging into the subject it becomes clear that there are lots of interesting questions to ask and explore.’

It is no surprise that Professor Smyth chose Wordle for the project. He told the Tribune that he plays it ‘every day. First thing in the morning.’ When asked why he thought the game was so popular he said ‘first, it’s easy to understand and get started and the difficulty level is just about right so that most people can figure out the word most of the time.’ I’m sure many readers can relate when he added ‘the other big advantage Wordle has had,  in my opinion, is the ease with which game “gestalts” can be shared on Twitter. This is how I found out about it back at Christmas: I kept seeing all of these Wordle graphics in my feed.’

Professor Barry Smyth, Digital Chair of Computer Science, UCD.

Professor Smyth analysed over 3m Wordle tweets posted by 800k players between December 23, 2021 and January 27, 2022. One conclusion that came apparent was that players became better at the game the more they played it. This was established by measuring experience in terms of the number of games users shared and also by measuring the number of days since these users posted their first won game. The result was that average game length declined as both measures of experience increased. In other words, practice makes perfect.

The analysis also found the importance of the first word the player uses when playing the game.  A strong first word can dramatically increase the chances of a player solving the game by the fourth round or less. Further analysis found the second letter of the correct word was the easiest to guess, followed by the third and final letters. Ultimately, the first and fourth letters were the most difficult to solve. This was the result of an extensive analysis of over 1 million simulated attempts at the game.

Finally, the research found that roughly once a week, a particularly difficult word is chosen with less common words or words with an unusual combination of letters being selected. This will be good news for those looking for an excuse when they see their sixth attempt end in failure!

Following the conclusion of his research, Professor Smyth told the Tribune that ‘it never ceases to amaze me how effective data science is when it comes to exploring interesting questions about the world we live in. I try to show the students that data science techniques are for everyday life just as much as it is for the big questions.’

Reflecting on his work, he added he was surprised ‘how popular the game was and how much appetite there has been for the sort of analysis that I have been doing. It has been great getting feedback from all over the world.’

So there you have it, the experts have had a crack at it and we now know plenty of information that we can arm ourselves with each day. There are now no more excuses, if the best minds in UCD’s data science team can’t help you, maybe this game isn’t for you…

Conor Paterson – Co-Editor