New York Times buys viral game Wordle for seven-figure sum

Creator Josh Wardle ‘thrilled’ that newspaper is taking over internet sensation


The New York Times has acquired the viral word game Wordle for an undisclosed seven-figure sum, the publisher announced on Monday.

Created by a Reddit engineer and launched in October, Wordle gives players just six guesses to determine a five-letter word that changes every day. The soothing daily puzzle has become a hit since its launch, quickly attracting hundreds of thousands, then millions, of players. Social media posts about its game of the day have become ubiquitous, along with screenshots of the game’s distinctive grid.

Josh Wardle, who created the game for his partner, who loves puzzles, told the Guardian this month that he felt overwhelmed by the game’s viral success.

“It going viral doesn’t feel great, to be honest. I feel a sense of responsibility for the players. I feel I really owe it to them to keep things running and make sure everything’s working correctly,” Wardle said.

At the same time, he said, “it’s not my full-time job and I don’t want it to become a source of stress and anxiety in my life.”

The New York Times’ crossword editor, Will Shortz, praised Wordle as a “a great puzzle”, and noted: “It doesn’t take long to play, which makes it perfect for our age when people have short attention spans.”

Jonathan Knight, general manager for the New York Times Games, told a Times reporter: “The game has done what so few games have done – it has captured our collective imagination and brought us all a little closer together.”

The ascent of a “pleasant little daily brainteaser” during the third year of a global pandemic has prompted many reflections on the joys of an earlier, more innocent age of the internet.

It has also fueled a tiny cottage industry of game optimization strategies, with mathematicians and linguistic experts weighing in on the best possible first guess.

“I think that at this point in life – after ten or so years of a proliferative mode in the online idiom – there is a craving to return to an earlier, slower internet,” the American author Brandon Taylor wrote in a recent newsletter reflecting on the game. Wordle, he said, “re-creates a sense of scarcity within the digital space”.

Wardle said in a statement that he was “thrilled” that the New York Times “will be the stewards of the game moving forward” and that he admired the newspaper’s “approach to games and the respect with which they treat their players”.

“This step feels very natural to me,” he wrote.

Some Wordle aficionados responded to the acquisition news with concern that the newspaper would move the puzzle behind its content paywall.

“When the game moves to the New York Times, Wordle will be free to play for new and existing players, and no changes will be made to its gameplay,” the newspaper promised, a pledge Wardle echoed in his statement.

Some reactions on social media remained skeptical: “I’d better not lose my streak when the game moves, or there will be HELL to pay,” one player wrote on Twitter.

Wardle wrote in his statement that he was working with the Times “to make sure your wins and streaks will be preserved”.

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