The word obsession is real, y’all. And you know how I know? Because it’s brought you here: to the point where you’re actually looking for real-life, tangible games to play to fulfill your growing need for that sweet, sweet word building and letter unscrambling. In a world where everything we do is on our phones and there’s very little that can pull our attention away from our shiny handheld devices, that’s a pretty impressive feat.
What is Wordle, anyway?
Wordle is a daily word puzzle created by Brooklyn-based software engineer Josh Wardle. The web-based word game launched in October of 2021 and soared to popularity so quickly that it was snatched up by The New York Times by January 2022. The game itself has remained the same since day one, however: a grid of gray boxes where you get six chances to guess the day’s predetermined five-letter word.
Get hints for today’s Wordle
You start by typing in one five-letter word which will let you know if any of those letters is in the day’s word. If it is, the letter will turn yellow; if it is not, it will be gray. A green letter, however, is best because that means the letter is in the word and in the correct spot. We break down all the details (and best strategies) herebut that’s the gist.
Alas, we can only play one Word per day. (Tread carefully there for spoilers if you haven’t yet played today’s word! Though we do give you several warnings.) And it’s that very nature of the game that keeps us going back for more — day after day after day.
Why are word games so popular?
It’s not just Wordle, though. Classic word games like Scrabble have roots that go back at least 100 years, and they’ve lasted the test of time as they remain just as popular today. Whether digital or tangible, there’s something about word games that just keeps us coming back for more. To get a better idea of what that something really is, we spoke to Emanuel Robinson, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist at Battelle.
Dr. Robinson points out that intellectual engagement in various forms of games has always been popular with different groups or classes, going all the way back to Victorian-era brain games that kept folks entertained long before the advent of television. But why are we still so drawn to these games when we have so many other potential distractions these days?
“Personality may play a part,” says Dr. Robinson, citing one’s personal need for cognition. “Someone high in this trait tends to seek out intellectually stimulating content.” He also notes the competitive component of not just games we actively play against in-person opponents, but also games like Wordle that we play individually and all-too-easily share with friends, strangers, and the entire internet, if we so choose. “Inherent drive to ‘lead the pack’ — whether a large, anonymous group or close family members — is strong.”
What makes the best word games so habit-forming?
These word games are not just popular, but playing them has actually become a habit for many of us. Dr. Robinson credits this to a matter of behavioral psychology, resulting from the fact that many games are built on the principles of simple responses to different stimuli.
“Provide rewards in variable and intermittent intervals and you’ll increase the drive to play the game,” he explains.
Simply put? In the case of Wordle, in particular, the sheer fact that it can only be played once a day (designed by Wardle with the intention of preventing addiction) is precisely what creates the habit of playing every day. And when it comes to physical, tabletop word games, the simple rush and reward of winning — or the potential to win — will always keep you coming back for more.
What are the benefits of playing word games?
Before you start Googling treatments for your newfound word game addiction, let’s just slow your roll and recognize that there are benefits to playing word games. Though Dr. Robinson notes that this area is debatable, he points out there has been some evidence of word games being beneficial, especially for children and older adults.
“There are some skills that one exercises in focused word game and other intellectual game play that seems to be beneficial in a variety of areas,” he says, including but not limited to:
Focused concentration for an extended period of time
Connecting different concepts and accessing stores of memory
Finding novel associations
Identifying mistakes or discarding bad words/ideas
Whether they can boost your brain power or not, there’s one important and very clear-cut benefit that cannot be debated, and that’s the sheer fact that the best word games out there are also fun. That alone is the biggest benefit we can think of when it comes to playing them, even if they’re not necessarily able to improve the average adult’s cognition levels.
Are tangible word games more beneficial than digital word games?
“Theoretically, there are advantages to games or activities that use multiple modalities,” says Dr. Robinson, referring to tangible, multiplayer games that utilize both physical and verbal aspects in their gameplay. “Using multiple modes of encoding and interaction make it easier to remember and access the information. So if we use both physical and verbal cues, then there are two different pathways to that information in the future.”
He also points out that puzzles — whether logic-based, mathematics, word puzzles or otherwise — can exercise different mental skills that can carry over to other types of problem-solving or activities that can be helpful in personal or professional contexts. There is even an area of social problem solving, which one might argue could be enhanced by the in-person, head-to-head gameplay of real-life word games.
Overall, Dr. Robinson notes that playing physical word games (as opposed to digital ones) may provide richer encoding of information because of the full context of modes. “Not only is it physical, but there are often other people involved which is another line of encoding and accessing information to make the memories more vivid.”
What is the best word game for Wordle fans?
Maybe you’ve just hopped on the Wordle bandwagon, or maybe you’re months-deep into your obsession. Either way, if you’re craving the ability to bring all that competitive unscrambling and word-making into the real, physical world, we’ve got a bunch of solid recommendations for you. From classic word games like Scrabble and Boggle to a whole new generation of unique and innovative games that put an extra fun spin on things, these are some of the best word games you can play with your fellow Wordle addicts during your next game night.