Some things just creep up on you. One minute you are strolling along merrily, whistling a happy tune like Anna in The King and I. Next thing you know, you feel a slight crick somewhere in your lower back, possibly between your third (L3) and fifth (L5) vertebrae, think nothing of it and before you can say slipped disc, you are instructed to lie in bed for a fortnight, with orthopaedic weights straightening you out. That may not be the best parallel to introduce the subject of my column this week, namely, the word game Wordle, that is now the rage and spreading like a rash all over the social media world, but ‘tis enough, ‘twill serve. For me, at any rate, it crept up quite suddenly. A Welsh-born, Brooklyn-based techie by the name of, wait for it, Josh Wardle is responsible for inventing or discovering this game. Evidently, he dedicated it to his techie Indian girlfriend, collaborator and Spelling Bee addict, Palak Shah. These techies tend to stick together. Wordle by Wardle. There’s a nice ring to it. A fortuitous serendipity, I call that, to be able to name a word game that sounds so very like the name of the game’s discoverer. Of and by itself Wordle (the name, not the game) is just a jumble of letters, amalgamating Word and Wardle. You might even be excused for feverishly seeking an anagrammatic solution. However, if the inventor of the game is called Wardle, you have to cut the man some slack while indulging in a spot of rhyming slang.
A couple of weeks ago, I had not even heard of Wordle. For that matter, even the name Wardle meant nothing to me. The only Wardle I had ever heard of was Johnny Wardle, a miserly left-arm spin bowler who turned out in English colours during the late 40s and early 50s. My research does not indicate that the two Wardles are related. However, if someone feverishly goes through details of the family tree with a fine toothcomb and deduces that Josh is the twice-removed grand nephew of Johnny, I shan’t quibble. Live and let live, that’s my motto.
While I am still trying to get my head around the intricacies of this deceptively simple word puzzle, there are some side issues that provide for interesting reading. Apparently, the app for Wordle (where will we be without apps?) started off modestly with less than 100 users in November 2021, a figure that burgeoned to 300,000 users by mid-January 2022, and as we go to press, those numbers have exploded exponentially to hundreds of millions, who play the game daily. Even Omicron’s superfast version BA.2 will struggle to keep up! Most of you who have started dabbling in Wordle know that it’s a once-a-day online game that gives a player six chances to figure out a five-letter word, using the least number of guesses. Sounds like a bit of a lottery, if you ask me. A guessing game with minimal skill sets involved, interspersed with a smidgen of logic, but then again, I have been wrong before on such matters and will therefore suspend judgement. There could be more to it than meets the eye. Meanwhile, one has to bear with the Facebook and Twitter maniacs who are going, ‘Guess what, I got it in 2 guesses.’ Followed by 125 appreciative likes / memes / emojis and a few ‘got it in one.’ To which my only response is, ‘Go tell that to the Marines.’ Even our Congress Party’s first family scion and leader Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter, sailing close to the wind with a not-so-veiled Wordle swipe at the ruling BJP. His opening five-letter salvo? JUMLA, followed by highly suggestive, if somewhat contrived, efforts like TAXES, SNOOP and ending anti-climactically with the correct Wordle answer, a non sequitur – PHOTO.
Like any decent Welshman, Josh Wardle was quite satisfied with his efforts at introducing a new challenge to excite the minds of those who are sitting at home and fretting about the pandemic. And he, with no small help from Palak, did it all for free! His occasional visits for a beer and pub lunch with Welsh rarebit (cheese on toast being the common or garden term) on the menu in Brooklyn was probably all that he craved. A man of simple pleasures. However, he was on an unbelievably lucky streak, and next thing he knew, some slick suit from that media monolith, The New York Times buttonholed him on one of the high streets in Brooklyn, offering him a seven-figure payoff to buy out all the rights to Wordle. ‘Gosh, this is your lucky day, Josh,’ he exclaimed to himself. A closet poet, our Wardle. ‘I am so relieved,’ he sighed, ‘not overcome with joy or anything. Just a sense of relief.’
That understatement of the year may not be an exact quote, but pretty damn close, from what I could glean from various media reports. Rumours that he promptly fainted and needed a dose of smelling salts to revive him appear to be apocryphal. As is the word going round that when he came to, he said somewhat theatrically, ‘Where am I?’ Even if that has been romanticized, Wardle could have been subconsciously thinking of fellow Welsh celebrity and poet, Dylan Thomas who, in his famous poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night penned these memorable lines, Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright / Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay. If a green bay had been conveniently to hand, our Josh would have certainly danced in it. On the other hand, it is more than likely that another famous Welshman, pop superstar Tom Jones resonated with Wardle belting out those two mega hit songs, It’s Not Unusual and Help Yourself. One day in the distant future, Josh and Palak will put all this aside and settle luxuriously in their Green, Green Grass of Home.
Till Wordle came along to divert my attention, I was quite happy unjumbling jumbled letters to form a simple word and feeling good about myself. PAPEL was comfortably rearranged to read APPLE. If you are partial to Roman Catholicism, you can also struggle briefly with LAPPA and come up with PAPAL, which will earn you a few brownie points with the Pope. Slightly more challenging would be INKDEL, which I would triumphantly convert to KINDLE. If push came to shove and the degree of difficulty was stretched to breaking point, I would snap a pencil or two, scream a familiar four-letter expletive (ending with the letter K) but finally emerge victorious translating EGLTA into AGLET. Time for a celebratory drink. And if you wish to add to your vocabulary, ‘Aglet’ is a metal or plastic tube fixed tightly round each end of a shoelace. ‘Damn and blast, where’s the aglet on my left shoe lace?’ We live and learn.
Those of us who started out playing Snakes & Ladders, Ludo, Draughts aka Checkers and later on, took halting steps towards Chess while struggling with Crosswords, were feeling reasonably comfortable in our own skins. Bridge was still a far cry. Then along came Sudoku for the numerically proficient, which put the kybosh on chaps like me who managed to barely scrape through his arithmetic paper in school. Sitting next to a Sudoku-mad passenger on a flight is a painful experience. ‘If you don’t mind, could I take page 9 of your newspaper please, if you are not doing the Sudoku?’ I do mind, as Charlie Brown and Hagar the Horrible were on the same page, but what the hell. One has to be civil to one’s fellow passenger. It did not help to elevate my mood when, after solving the Sudoku puzzle, my neighbour passes the crumpled, folded page back to me with a smug ‘Today was plain sailing. You should have tried last Sunday’s. Absolute nightmare. Devised by a sadist. Took me nearly 12 minutes to solve.’ I buried my face in page 9 and took refuge in Charlie Brown.
As for Wordle, I am getting the hang of it. Very slowly. I DRUNEL (NURDLE), do not allow my mood to RUDLEC (CURDLE). Au contraire, I BWRLAE (WARBLE) like Keats’ blithe Spirit, the skylark. To those who tell me the game is a LUHRDE (HURDLE), I draw myself up to my full height and EDIRLB (BRIDLE). Come to think of it, some of those jumbled-up non-words could easily pass for names of some unpronounceable Welsh towns! All right, I can see you all going ‘Those words are all six-letter words. Wordle is a five-letter word game, you dolt! And it’s not a jumble game.’ As if I didn’t know. Gimme a break and pin your ears back, folks. I have got the drop on this Johnny-come-lately, Wardle J. This is Wordle 2.0, this is. My own version. The new, improved six-letter word game. I am getting frantic calls from The New York Times and The Times of London. As soon as I get my eight-figure payoff from either one of them (I am not fussy), I shall settle up promptly with Wardle on his well-deserved royalties. I shall not DDLWAE (DAWDLE). Fair play to you, Josh. If we ever do meet in Brooklyn or Bangalore, I’d like a quick Wordle in your shell-like ear.