(NEXSTAR) – You know those friends of yours? The ones who brag about their Wordle results on Twitter? They’re probably not giving you an accurate representation of the game’s difficulty.
Wordle, the online game that tasks players with finding a hidden five-letter word in six guesses or fewer, has become a bona fide phenomenon among wordsmiths and puzzle afficionados worldwide. The game’s popularity skyrocketed even further over the last few weeks after Wordle creator Josh Wardle (yes, Wardle) added a feature that allowed users to easily share their results via a color-coded grid, without giving away the answer.
Naturally, players have been posting their grids on social-media platforms like Twitter, using them to share their love of Wordle with the online community — and to lightly boast of their puzzle-solving prowess.
One player, Kevin O’Connor, has been keeping tabs on these grids for several days. On his Twitter account @WordleStats, O’Connor tallies the number of users posting their results to Twitter, but he also calculates the percentages of Twitter users who claim they solved the puzzle on their first, second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth tries.
Based on his findings, O’Connor has determined that approximately 1% of the players who post their results to Twitter are guessing the correct word on their first attempt, and somewhere between 3% and 9% guess correctly on the second try. The percentages for third, fourth and fifth guesses are more varied, though most players claim they find success on the fourth or fifth. Very few (between 1% and 4%) admit to not finding the answer at all.
It’s fair to say, however, that the majority of people who play Wordle aren’t posting their results to Twitter. And of those that do, they’re certainly less likely to post their failures.
That’s not to suggest that O’Connor’s statistics aren’t credible; Wardle himself has retweeted one of O’Connor’s posts. But those percentages — being based on data solely from Twitter — might not paint an accurate portrait of the average Wordle player.
“It’s all just pulled from Twitter, so certainly I bet a lot of people hide their shame,” O’Connor recently told a follower.
So what are the actual chances of a correct first guess?
In a recent interview with BBC Radio 4, Wardle revealed that he programmed the game to accept more than 12,000 possible guesses (based on the number of five-letter words in the dictionary), but only about 2,500 of those words are included in the game’s pool of randomized acceptable solutions. More specifically, the game’s source code indicates that there are 12,972 acceptable guesses, but only 2,315 solutions, according to online analysts.
“If your strategy is just to guess one of the 12,972 words at random, your chances at getting it right are only 1 in 12,972, which is less than a hundredth of a percent,” explained Aaron Berger, a Ph.D. student in mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and an occasional Wordle player.
But Berger said the average player’s chances might skew slightly better, presumably because the pool of acceptable answers contains many of the most common five-letter English words (and therefore many of the most common guesses). Even still, if a player knew all 2,315 words in the answer pool ahead of time, they would still have a 1 in 2,315 chance — less than a twentieth of a percent — of solving the day’s Wordle on the first guess. The odds get marginally better every subsequent game (e.g., 1 in 2,314; 1 in 2,313) assuming the correct answer isn’t a repeat of the previous days’ solutions.
With that in mind, it’s highly unlikely that 1% of all players are guessing correctly on the first try — and much more likely that some folks are cheating.
For starters, it’s a statistical near-impossibility “even when you account for people being more likely to post to Twitter when they make a lucky guess,” according to Berger. But there’s another good reason to believe Wordle users are exaggerating their abilities for Twitter clout.
“If you go to Twitter and search something like ‘Wordle 207 1/6,’ you can see all the posts claiming to get it on the first guess,” Berger noted. “And many of them outright admit to cheating!”
In other words, you can’t trust everything you see on Twitter, no matter how cute those little Wordle grids may seem.