Musings on Optimal Wordle Strategy
Some very serious thoughts from this weekend
One of my favorite small pleasures of the morning is my time completing the daily Wordle puzzle. If you have been living under a rock, Wordle is an online game that rose to prominence in late 2021 and early 2022. Worlde is beloved for both simplicity and accessibility:
So much so that I now not only do Wordle, but I also do Quordle (where you have to solve four wordle puzzles in 9 guesses):
If I am feeling motivated, Octordle(where you have to solve eight wordle puzzles in 13 guesses):
I find it is nice to have something stimulate your brain in the groggy hours of the early morning, and the Wordle family of games is a perfect level of difficulty to do that well.
But of course, I am a bit extra when it comes to games and puzzles, and over my four months doing wordle, I have incrementally developed a strategy to beat the game as efficiently as I can. My track record in Wordle (note: I do not play the puzzle on hard mode) is solving 122 out of 123 puzzles, with my longest winning streak ending at 89. In Quordle, I have cracked 58 out of 66 daily puzzles (longest streak 20) and 100 out of 114 practice puzzles (longest streak 26). Unfortunately, Octordle does not keep my stats, so I have no insight into my track record. However, I tend to think my experience is that my strategy is working there pretty well.
The fundamental tradeoff in wordle strategy is whether you prioritize speed or accuracy. When I first started playing Wordle, my goal was to solve the puzzle as fast as possible. If my first guess yielded 2 or 3 letters, I would try to guess the word on my second and third guesses. I reconsidered this when I failed to get Worldle 304:
(Flyer was the word that did me in)
Since the vortex defeated my streak, I have shifted my tactics to focus more on accuracy. I am willing to go through a couple of rounds of guessing to identify letters before trying to guess the actual word. It involves being strategic about guessing the most common letters in English, explicitly guessing the most common consonants. If the wordle is “CHEAT,” being able to identify “T and H” is a lot more useful than identifying “E” and “A.”
So this is my Wordle Opening Strategy:
Guess 1: TEARS - this yields the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 7th, and 8th most common letters (if they are in the word)
Guess 2: INDOL - this yields the 4th, 5th, 6th, 10th, and 11th most common letters (if they are in the word)
Now, having guessed 10 of the 11 most common letters used in English words, at this point, I will almost always have enough letters to guess the word either on the third or fourth guess. Of course, sometimes, after TEARS, I can immediately guess the word, but those times are more than exceeded by the times that trying to guess the word after one word will risk putting you in the vortex. So, if these two words do not yield much, my follow up is:
Guess 3: CHUMP - this yields the 8th, 12th, 13th, 14th, and 16th most common letters (if they are in the word)
If this strategy is employed, you should be in excellent shape. Again, I won’t go so far as you are insulated from failure, but I think you are set up pretty well for success.
QUORDLE and OCTORDLE Opening Strategy
Of course, when pivoting to QUORDLE, I have found a more extended period of exploratory guessing to be more beneficial since, with four words to guess, you have to be more focused on broadening your understanding of what letters are in words and less margin to be precise guessing each word. So for Quordle, I approach like this:
Guess 1: ROAST - this yields the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 7th, and 8th most common letters
Fiend (1/5/6/11/15) - this yields the 1st, 5th, 6th, 11th, and 15th most common letters
Now at this point, sometimes you have identified 4 or 5 letters in 1 or 2 words, which makes it strategic to go ahead and guess those words. But 90% of the time, I will proceed to one of two third guesses.
If I am doing well, I will focus on identifying the remaining five highest value letters:
Guess 3: MULCH - this yields the 8th, 10th, 12th, 13th, and 14th most common letters
This 3-word cycle yields 15 of the most common 15 letters in 3 guesses, which is pretty effective at solving Quordle.
However, If I am not doing as well identifying letters, I will pivot to a slightly different strategy for guesses three and four:
Guess 3: GULCH- this yields the 8th, 10th, 12th, 13th, and 17th most common letters
Guess 4: WIMPY - this repeats the letter “I” unnecessarily and yields the 14th, 16th, 18th, and 19th most common letters.
This strategy means that after four guesses, only seven letters have not been revealed (B, V, J, K, Q, Z, X). These letters are not super common, and even if they are in play, they are often clear once you have the other 19 letters identified.
When doing OCTORDLE, I will almost always practice this final strategy, given the sheer difficulty of finding eight words in 13 guesses.
Word Finding Hints
As much as I can, I try not to use hints/assistants, and especially with WORDLE, I find that you do not need a good strategy in hand. But let us be honest, especially when you have 4 or 8 words to guess, it is hard to figure them out of my head. Also worth noting that, unlike WORDLE, the other games use a much more expansion list of 5 letter words, including some that the vast majority of people would never think of as words.
When I am stumped and have to turn to assistance, I find Wordle word finder is the most useful tool for identifying what words are possible from the remaining letters.
Hopefully, this was an enjoyable break from my usual musing, and look for me to be back later this week!