If you’re like me, in the past few weeks your Twitter timeline has become a parade of yellow, green, and black-or-white squares all lined up in rows like Madeline and her schoolmates walking through the streets of Paris. Early on, I discovered that the squares were part of a game called “Wordle,” but I initially assumed that arranging the squares was itself the game, that there was some kind of subtle pattern creation at work. Plugging “Wordle” into a search engine led to trying to solve one Wordle puzzle, just to see what all the fuss was about, and that immediately led to making Wordle an essential part of my daily routine (just like Madeline’s daily walks).
As demonstrated by those squares on Twitter—and by a recent flurry of news coverage— I’m not alone. Maybe you too are riding the Wordle wave, eagerly waiting for midnight, when you’ll be granted a new chance to deduce a secret five-letter-word. On the surface, the fact that we only get one Wordle challenge each day seems like it could be a point of frustration. In a pop culture landscape dominated by the model of “binging” media, we tend to always want more, more, more of what we enjoy. So why have so many people become riveted by a website that not only doesn’t ask for more than a little slice of your day but actively doesn’t allow you to participate for more than a single six-guess puzzle at a time?
Sarah Demarest, a library youth services provider in western Massachusetts, theorized to me that our overfamiliarity with binging the latest trends is exactly why something like Wordle can catch on; a large part of its charm is its model’s rarity. She explained, “For me a lot of the appeal is in the fact that you can’t just play nonstop. You get a new episode every day.” Picking up on her television analogy, I pointed out that this meant Wordle was like a return to classic patterns of TV consumption, and she agreed, adding, “I have always been a strong believer that we need an equal mix of serialized and bingeable TV. But I have never thought about how that applies to other trends too.”
A tweet by screenwriter Eden Dranger @Eden_Eats with more than 4,000 retweets and 44,000 likes places Wordle in a list of “Covid Eras” beginning with the Netflix documentary series Tiger King. Both have been pandemic sensations, topics of memes and group-chat conversations alike, but this shift from Tiger King to Wordle, taking Sarah’s theory into account, indicates that maybe we are seeing an overall shift from a passion for the bingeable to a passion for the serialized. At a time when so many of us are burned out for larger, heavier reasons than a pop culture trend, do we really need to be inviting more of that exhaustion into our brains?
The game’s creator, Josh Wardle, is conscious of how his site fits into our greater historical context, explaining on an episode of Spectacular Vernacular that the choice to remove attention-manipulating features like push notifications and endless play “had this effect where the game feels really human . . . And that really resonates, you know, [with] where we’re at right now in the world in light of Covid.” When we ourselves are so often, on Zoom, reduced to little squares on a screen, a different set of little squares on a screen has the ironic power to remind us of our humanity. After all, not being able to binge means having to move at the same speed as everyone else. We are all walking next to each other.
A New York Times article about Wardle and his game states that the limit on one game per day “enforced a sense of scarcity . . . which leaves people wanting more.” There’s probably some truth to that, but in spite of what the creator of the copycat website Wordle Unlimited might think, maybe we’re just ready to pace ourselves instead of being deluged with constant streams of entertainment.
Pacing ourselves instead of binging is our philosophy when it comes to our Daily POP crosswords and word search puzzles. You know that we love pop culture enough to consume our favorite pieces of media for five—or twenty-six—straight hours ourselves. However, in this binging-saturated world, we’re happy to provide something steady and serialized for contrast. So, after you finish tweeting your Wordle squares for the day, why not hop on over to Daily POP and continue your slow-burn love affair with word puzzles?
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