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Wordle, Dordle, Lingo, and Jotto

January 30, 2022
The Wordle plague has left its mark.

Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ve probably noticed the scaly, green and yellow rash that has been infecting the social media of your friends and family. No, it’s not the latest Covid variant, it’s the brag posts for the latest word game craze: Wordle. I wasn’t in the first wave of Wordle enthusiasts, but I glommed on as soon as I realized what the squares meant; I had played a similar word game as a kid and the nostalgia was welcome.

From the official site.

For the uninitiated, Wordle is a word puzzle where you’re trying to guess a five-letter word. You get six tries, all of which are proper five-letter words. (No guessing AEIOU.) For each letter in your guess, it shows you whether it’s in correct (green), in the word but in the wrong space (yellow) or not part of the target word (gray). The fewer guesses it takes, the bigger the brag you get to post to Twitter or Facebook or wherever. It’s one word a day and everyone gets the same word. So yes, the cheaters can find ways to one-guess it every day, so don’t bet money on it.

Mastermind: pretty much the same game but with colors instead of letters.

If you’ve played the old colored peg game Mastermind, you probably get the gist. More directly, it’s like the early 2000’s Chuck Woolery game show from the Game Show Network called Lingo. (Yes, there was an iteration before that filmed in Vancouver, but I never saw that one and it didn’t have Shandi.) Teams of two players would try to guess five letter words given the first letter. Similar markings were used for accurate and wrong-place letters. There was a bingo component included in some show iterations…but that’s neither here nor there. The big sell for me was the word game. And Shandi.

GSN’s Lingo with Chuck Woolery and Shandi Finnessey
Lingo was very similar to Wordle, with the clue of a first letter and a burden of a ticking clock.

So Wordle isn’t a brand new idea, but it’s suddenly caught fire. There are plenty of imitators of the imitator out there, but the “legit” game is at . That’s the one your friends are bragging about. That’s the one I’m playing…sometimes. I like that I’m tackling the same word as my mom and my sister and half the people I graduated high school with. There’s a sense of community with that, and not a small amount of competitiveness. That competitive side is what drives the countless articles, blog posts, and videos that dive into the strategies, especially focusing on the starting word. (We’ll get to a little of that soon.) A starting word or two is good, but it’s practice that makes perfect.

And that’s the hard thing with Wordle – one a day makes it tough to practice. That’s where the imposters are actually important. If you enjoy it once a day, you’ll probably enjoy it more often. So I set off to look at some clones. Primel was in interesting take, where you’re trying to guess a five-digit prime number. As a math teacher, I can enjoy that, but five-digit primes aren’t something I can rattle off the top of my head, so it wasn’t as good. Eventually I stumbled across an article talking about “Wordle’s evil twin: Dordle.”

Dordle: Double Wordle

I’m assuming that Dordle is a portmanteau of “double wordle”. You get seven guesses instead of six, but you’re simultaneously guessing two different words. So if the puzzle words are HAPPY and MONTH, and you guess HORSE, you get feedback twice: HORSE and HORSE. The picture below may be a better explanation. It’s definitely a bigger challenge than a single word. And while Dordle has a puzzle of the day, it also has an unlimited option. And I’ve played it a lot. Enough that words have started to repeat on me occasionally despite playing for less than a week. It’s certainly helped me hone my technique. However, the strategy does differ from Wordle a bit.

My latest obsession: Dordle. I’ve played a lot of these.

In Wordle, one or two green or yellow letters are usually worth including in your second guess. You never know, that second try could nail it. It happens. But the benefits of chasing one or two letters are severely diminished when you’re chasing two words. My first two or even three guesses are all about throwing darts and getting as much data as possible. As such, I worked to hone a three-guess opener involving fifteen distinct letters. All the vowels are encompassed in the first two, while number three is typically GLYPH to get the Y out there. It took a few tries to get as many high-yield letters into that opening salvo as possible. If I get enough hits on the first two, I might not throw GLYPH out there, especially if I don’t suspect the Y.

I’m not going to share my top two words. Like I said, I can be competitive. The pic above is one of my games, but I altered my starters because I knew I was going to share. I had to play a few times before these yielded a winner, so something about this exact combination is sub-optimal compared to my preferred openers, which aren’t guaranteed Dordle winners but have served me well.

I’ve seen plenty of lists of best first words for Wordle. Most have four vowels, like ADIEU or AUDIO. I don’t go quite that far, but Dordle definitely proved to me the benefits of having at least three. I also like to get the R, S, T, L, and N out there (Vanna would be proud) along with C, H, and M. I don’t get them all into my first three (It might be possible), but it’s also good to keep a couple flexible letters in reserve. Double letters are sneaky, so it’s good to have something with doubles that might also test another moderately likely letter. I’ve used LEECH a fair number of times that way, usually checking on the C or H alongside the extra E. If one guess can do multiple things, so much the better.

This is very similar to the Jotto set I remember from childhood, but our holders were green.

My original starting word was HORSE. There’s a good reason for that, but that reason doesn’t translate very well to Wordle or Dordle. It’s the starting word I always used when I played Jotto. Jotto was a similar game played with pencil and paper. My parents had the store-bought version which came with two vinyl-covered cardboard writing surfaces that held a pre-printed game pad. The two units attached together with snaps for storage. It was a clever design that never broke down. The pads did run out, though, so I’ve played quite a few Jotto rounds on notebook paper without losing the fun or challenge.

The main difference between Jotto and Wordle/Lingo was that your opponent didn’t reveal which letters were correct, just how many. Success in a mere six guesses was unheard of. I liked to start with HORSE so I could follow up with HOUSE, MOUSE, SHORT, SHIRT, and other variations that use four of the same five letters. If the number goes down or up, you know a letter. The ultimate successful Jotto guess was the zero score, which let you eliminate with confidence. In a pinch, a word with only three distinct letters could get you that zero you needed. PUPPY was a favorite, though needing to use it suggested the game wasn’t going smoothly.

Jotto is complex, with space to track your own guesses and your opponents’. I found this image in an assignment from a Duke University programming course.

I would love to see a Jotto version surface. Heck, I bet there’s one out there under a different name that I just haven’t discovered yet. It’s a much bigger commitment to play Jotto than Wordle, even if it’s against a computer instead of a person. Way more guesses required, though hitting twenty would be a pretty long game. Wordle and Dordle are fair substitutes. (But they’re still no Shandi.)

Ahh, Shandi…
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