Wordle, Hard or Easy

wordleLike what seems like 90% of the country, I am caught up in the Wordle craze, trying to guess an arbitrary five letter word in six (or fewer) tries.  Just in case you’ve been hiding under a rock, here’s how it works.  You enter your first guess into the first row of the Wordle board the press Enter.    Wordle responds by showing you which letters are actually in the word of the day, green meaning the letter is in the right place in the word and yellow meaning the letter is in the wrong place.  Letters that are not in the word are shaded gray.   Each guess must be a word in Wordle’s list of acceptable five letter words.  The best part is sharing how many guesses you needed (without givingstats away the answer) by posting your solution on social media showing only the color of your guesses without letters.  Wordle keeps track of how many guesses it takes in a chart shown on the right.   You can see that most often, it takes me 4 guesses but that on good days I can get 2 or 3 … or 5 or 6 on bad days.   In 63 games, I’ve always gotten the word in at most six guesses.   My average score (using the well-known formula) is

            Ave = (1×0+3×2+13×3+23×4+17×5+7×6)/66 = 264/66 = 4.19

Naturally, I was curious how my average compared to others, so I Googled average wordle score and found that the average score among Americans is 3.92.  Gloom!!!  Worse than average.  More gloom … my grandsons seem to be beating me regularly.   Grandfather pride is one thing … this is Wordle.

That’s when I discovered that there was a Wordle hard mode hiding in the settings and that the game came up in the easy mode by default.  More important to my ego, I discovered that I had been playing in the hard mode and my grandsons in the easy mode.  So, let’s talk about the hard mode.   In the hard mode, guesses MUST include all letters that have previously been shown as green or yellow.  In the default (easy) mode you can use any five-letter word.  Let’s look at an example.  To solve the Wordle, you need to determine (1) the correct five letters and (2) the correct position for those letters in the word.   On the first guess, the two modes are the same, as is any turn in which you have found no letters.   So, if the secret word is SHORT and our initial guess is ARISE, Wordle will return ARISE (we know two letters in the wrong position). In the hard mode, I have to use R and S, so I might try STRUT, which returns STRUT, meaning I know three letters, two in the correct place.  In the easy mode, I have an option: I can remember the letters (and positions) from the first guess, and try a word with all new letters, let’s say CLOTH returning CLOTH.   I know all five letters (R,S,O T and H) and I know where the O goes.  In this case, it seems to me the guess to get SHORT is indeed easier in the easy mode.   But seems to me in one case is hardly proof.

So, I turned to the internet, which is buzzing with posts about Wordle and Googled Is Wordle hard mode actually harder?  What I found were a lot of opinions both ways (its easier here, its harder there) and conjectures both ways based incidental performance after changing modes.   Hardly scientific.  I wanted statistics and there is no shortage of those in the online Wordle-verse*.   But I found only one source that claimed to have compared easy and hard modes in What are the Average Number of Guesses in Wordle? on NerdsChalk.com.   It states that the odds of you solving a Wordle challenge touch an average of 4 guesses in the easy mode and 5 guesses in the hard mode.   It references a Twitter account, Word Stats (here), that regularly computes the statistics of the games of hundreds of thousands of Wordle players who shared their results on Twitter.  I looked at Word Stats and found no data discriminating between easy and hard mode, but I assume that the nerds at Nerds Chalk had access to additional results.  So for the time being**, I will accept that easy mode has an advantage of about one guess over hard mode.  Take that, grandsons. Rest easy, ego.

* The amount of thought and analysis that is going into understanding, developing strategies, and yes, cheating at Wordle is worth a post of it’s own.  Look for Overthinking Wordle here on Oldereyes in the next week or so.

** I will also post as a comment if I find the easy mode data.


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6 Comments on “Wordle, Hard or Easy”

  1. barrythewiz Says:

    Thx OE. Didn’t know about easy/hard. I play with my kids and grandkids every day too. I have played by the “hard” rules because I thought I had to. I need to check what everyone else is doing. BTW – just calculated my avg – 4.06 and my grandkids beat me regularly also.

  2. Mike Curatola Says:

    Hi Bud, I played wordle for the first time. I didn’t do well by placing random letters in the boxes without making a word. It took my fourth set of letters to get a proper response. lol. Eventually, it took four tries to come up with royal. I would recommend it. Thanks, Mike


  3. granny1947 Says:

    I have resisted the temptation to play Wordle.

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