No, The New York Times did not make Wordle harder

Wordle – the viral daily word guessing game recently bought by The New York Times – has been gaining momentum in recent days. Brain teasers like “ULTRA”, “ULCER” and “ALOFT” have appeared, frustrating players, many of whom have taken to Twitter to complain that the game’s new owners are deliberately increasing the difficulty.

But while conspiracy theories abound that the eruption of difficult words is the result of the New York Times Games division sitting around with devilish grins searching for the toughest five-letter words in the lexicon, the truth is that The New York Times innocent of Wordle crimes here.

The last few days in Wordle had a different atmosphere. It seems that those who choose the words are actively looking for unusual letter combinations in a way that wasn’t happening before. I’m not sure what I think. 239 5/6

— Rachel Ginsberg (@rachelginsberg) February 13, 2022

The New York Times is innocent of Wordle crimes

That’s because Wordle’s solutions don’t contain every five-letter word in the English lexicon. As the creator of the game, Josh Wardle, explained in an interview with the New York Times (before buying the game), he had his partner, Palak Shah — for whom the game was originally made as a gift — help narrow the roughly 12,000 possibilities down to about 2,500 words she was familiar with.

It’s that glossary that makes up Wordle’s solution set, and the list is literally baked into the website’s Javascript itself. It’s one of the reasons the game was so easy to store locally before the NYT purchase.

And as a quick comparison between the pre-NYT list of solutions (which can be seen herewith a HEAVY spoiler warning) and the list of still visible fixes in the NYT version of Wordle (you can follow the instructions from PCMag here to view the Javascript list), the game’s new owners haven’t added any fixes yet – anyway. The main change the Times made was to remove some words: the game’s new owners have removed some offensive language from the list of valid guesses for the game (specific, offensive language and slander) and from Wardle’s solutions, in addition to removing some more difficult words from the original set (such as “AGORA” and “PUPAL”).

But the truth is, Wordle has always had difficult words. TAPIR and REBUS have previous answers, as do PROXY, KNOLL, QUERY and SIEGE.

Since The New York Times bought Wordle, here are the solutions:

  • THAT
  • DAMP
  • SHARD
  • PLEAT
  • ALOFT
  • SKILL
  • ELDER
  • FRAME
  • HUMOUR
  • PAUSE
  • SWEAR
  • ULTRA
  • ROBIN

Some of those words are indeed trickier, but there have also been a lot of kind words in the mix, such as THOSE, FRAME, and SHARD. And while the recent run of tough words is certainly one thing (including today’s puzzle, which, I admit, I had to guess all six times to solve), it’s not because The New York Times is ruining the game.

Correction Feb 15, 07:50 ET: The New York Times has removed words from Wordle’s original set of solutions, removing some of the potentially offensive words, as well as some of the more difficult and obscure words from Wardle’s list. This article originally claimed that the company had not changed the list.

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