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Word Game

My free, open-source, no-time-limit Wordle clone

P. LutusMessage Page

Copyright © 2022, P. Lutus

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The Game | The Instructions | Strategy and Analysis | Notes | Player Feedback

Note: Click Here for a mobile-friendly Word Game display.

The Game
    
Easy mode
Hard mode
Harder mode
Show count
4 letters
5 letters
6 letters
The Instructions

First, unlike the canonical version located at Wordle, this version of the popular word game has no time or rate limit — you may play as often as you want.

The goal of the game is to decode a secret word having 4, 5 or 6 letters (user-selected). You do this by entering a word and submitting it to the game. The game examines your entered letters and changes their colors:

  • If a letter is not in the secret word, it becomes gray and the corresponding keyboard character becomes gray as well.

  • If a letter is in the secret word but in the wrong location, it becomes yellow.

  • If a letter is in the secret word and correctly located, it becomes green.

  • If all the word's letters are correctly identified and located, the entire word becomes green and the game ends in victory.

  • If the secret word has not been decoded after six tries, the game ends. You can play again by pressing the "New Game" button.

  • If you play multiple times, the game keeps a tally of wins and losses and the percentage of wins.

  • On most modern browsers, if you want to take a break, just exit this page and resume later — your game will be saved.

  • To see additional game options, chick the "Options" button — this opens a panel of extra settings. To close the panel, click the "Options" button again.

  • In the game options menu:

    • The "Erase All" button resets everything — the current game, the history of wins and losses, all settings are reset to their defaults.

    • The "Hard Mode" option requires you to include all hinted (i.e. yellow or green) letters in subsequent entries. This makes the game a bit harder, hence the name, but by imposing a bit of discipline it can lead to a faster solution. Hard Mode can be enabled or disabled as the game proceeds without losing your entries.

    • The "Harder Mode" option adds another constraint: as before, you must include all hinted (i.e. yellow or green) letters, but you must also avoid use of grayed letters (which are not present in the secret word). This requires even more discipline but (as before) it can lead to a faster solution because it prevents use of letters that aren't part of the secret word. Harder Mode can be enabled or disabled as the game proceeds without losing your entries.

    • The "Show count" checkbox, enabled by default, displays a count of candidate dictionary words that agree with the player's current search entry. The goal is to reduce the count of candidate words toward one. It's possible to make a pathological entry that creates a matching count of zero, but as the guesses become better, the count normally declines toward one. This display can be disabled by unselecting the "Show count" checkbox.

      This feature is unique to my Word Game — Wordle doesn't have it.

    • You can choose to play using four-letter, five-letter or six-letter words by selecting the corresponding radio button. The four-letter game is substantially easier than the five-letter game, but I have to tell you, six-letter words aren't 20% (6/5) harder than five-letter words, they are much, much harder.

  • Important: if you are using a mobile device, Click Here for a mobile-friendly Word Game display.

Strategy and Analysis

Dictionary Lengths

Here are dictionary lengths for all game modes:

  • 4-letter mode has words.
  • 5-letter mode has words.
  • 6-letter mode has words.

First Word Guess

NOTE: After deciding to filter all plurals from the game dictionary (February 23, 2022), I re-performed this analysis with the new dictionary and updated the tables below. The results are nearly the same.

This section covers the analysis of five-letter words. For four-letter, six-letter lists and other data, browse this list of my source database files.)

For the first entry in a new Word game it's best to choose a word having the most commonly used letters in the game's dictionary. When I started playing this game I thought a word with many vowels was best, but as it turns out that's not the optimal choice — the best choice is a word that uses the most common letters present in the game's dictionary.

Remember the goal is not necessarily to match commonly spoken or printed words, but match the most likely words in the game's dictionary — those are usually different things.

Realizing this, I decided to create a list of optimal first words, based on the dictionary I'm using (which came from here but without plurals). My strategy was to:

  1. Analyze letter usage — see how often letters appeared and rank them, give each a score.
  2. Choose words ranked by commonly used letters from the letter-frequency list.
  3. Pick starting words from the top of the ranked-word list.

For phase (1) I created a list that tallies up the characters in the game dictionary and sorts them by frequency of use:

I was a bit surprised by the outcome. Years ago I had read that the most commonly used English letters were, in order of frequency, "ETAINOSHRLDU" (source), more or less. But language changes over time, and more important, common English usage won't be perfectly reflected in a dictionary that lists each word just once. Since my goal was to address this game's dictionary, not all English usage, I decided to use this generated frequency list for the next phase.

I was surprised by the ranking of certain letters. I wouldn't have guessed that Q was the least-used letter, below Z and X. And J has a surprisingly low ranking, below Z. I realized my instincts about common letter use had failed me. But remember this ranking is for a dictionary in which a word can only appear once — it doesn't take into account how often or rarely a word is used in print or conversation.

For phase (2) I used the above letter-frequency list to sort all the words in the dictionary — I ranked each word's letters by that letter's frequency derived from phase (1). This list includes the first 256 words sorted by common letter usage:

In this list, the second column numbers represent the sum of a word's letters times their frequency of use from the prior table, and this table is sorted by frequency of letter usage, largest total at the top.

Interestingly, because of my analysis method, many dictionary words produced the same numerical score, and not surprisingly these words often (not always) turned out to be anagrams of each other: AESIR|AIRES|ARIES|ARISE|RAISE|SERAI|SERIA. These anagrams turn out to be useful in this word game because, once the game reveals some letters from the secret word, a player can choose an anagram that locates letters for maximum advantage.

Remember when using these lists that it's relatively easy to choose the first word when none of the secret word's letters have been revealed, but subsequent words should avoid repeating already-used letters unless the game reveals them as being present in the secret word, and the new guess word rearranges the letters to try to locate the correct locations of the hinted letters.

My point is that lists of common words and letters can only get you started. Once the game reveals some of the secret word's letters, more complex strategies are required.

After this analysis, I realized I had been using inefficient first-guess words. The bottom line is that the best first-guess five-letter word is ... wait for it ... AROSE (or SOARE, same letters, different order). As it turns out, prior studies agree with my conclusion, as does mathematician Grant Sanderson in this YouTube video.

Picking the Right Word

This addresses a common Word Game tactical error — choosing a guess word based on how often it's used in everyday English. Let's say you have these hints created by prior entries:

 A EN

Among the 24 matches for this pattern in the Word Game dictionary, is it better to choose a common word like "TAKEN" or "EATEN", and avoid the obscure "YAMEN" (a real word)? As it turns out, because a word can only appear once in the dictionary, all 24 matches have an equal chance to be the secret word — there's no provision to favor a word based on how often it appears in English prose and conversation.

This is why, no matter how often you play Word Game and no matter how literate you are, you will often lose a round simply because there are too many correct candidate words, each with an equal probability of being correct, and only six turns to choose the right one. This is true BTW for Wordle as well, for the same reason.

Notes
  • 2022.02.23: Added a four-letter-word mode for new players who might want an easier introduction to this puzzle. Like all game options, this selector is located in the "Options" menu.
  • 2022.02.23: Responding to user feedback, changed to a game dictionary with purals removed. The new dictionary has 8,585 unique five-letter words instead of a mixture of five-letter, and pluralized four-letter, words.
  • 2022.01.30: Added a candidate-word calculator/counter which tells the player how many dictionary words match current search entries. This feature can be disabled in the Options menu.
  • 2022.01.27: Added a user-selectable "Harder Mode" that requires use of hinted letters and also prevents use of grayed letters. This requires a lot of discipline but can lead to a faster solution.
  • 2022.01.25: Added a user-selectable "Hard Mode" option in which all hinted letters must be used in subsequent entries. Entries are harder to create, but one can find a solution more quickly.
  • 2022.01.23: Added game state storage using browser local storage (not cookies). This allows you to you leave a game, close the browser, then resume later. It may be necessary to "erase history" once, to update your game to this new method.
  • 2022.01.22: Based on user feedback, replaced my original dictionary having 15,918 five-letter words, with a more reasonably-sized one — 11,423 five-letter words (Wordle's dictionary has 12,972 words). The original dictionary had too many impossible-to-guess words.

This game is © Copyright 2022, P. Lutus and is released under the GPL.

Player Feedback

Links:

Is This a Bug?

Is This a Bug?
Thanks for posting your Wordle clone. You're most welcome. Now that the New York Times has purchased Wordle, is moving it onto their Website and will eventually charge people to play, I expect to see more people playing my free version. I noticed a bug though (At least I consider it incorrect, and it does not match Wordle's behavior either) I think I can explain it most clearly with an example. Suppose the secret is SPENT and the guess is LEVEE. All the E's will be marked yellow. Since there is only one E in the secret, I think only one E should be marked yellow and the others should be gray. Not really. If you enter more than one copy of a letter that's in the word, the game should make all of them yellow to avoid misleading the player about where the letter is — and is not — located. Otherwise the player has the right to assume that any location where the letter is not yellow, means the letter is not in the word (or the letter should be placed there). Coloring all the letter's copies in the same way avoids this possible confusion. I discovered this when the secret was WHOOS and I guessed SHOOS. The first S was yellow and all the other letters were green. It looked absurd to say the first S was a correct but in the wrong place when there was no other place for it. But that was correct — that particular 'S' was in the wrong place. The green 'S' was in the right place. Consider the alternative — a gray 'S', which means that 'S' is not in the word, and a green 'S', which firmly contradicts the gray 'S'.

Consider the alternative — not coloring the misplaced letter yellow. This means that gray letter is not present in the word. So you would have two indications — in one, the letter is colored as not being present in the word at all, and in the other, the letter is present and correctly placed. That's a contradiction.

In my game I often see multiple copies of a given letter in a guess, all yellow, meaning the letter doesn't belong in any of those positions. I use this information to avoid placing that letter in those positions in subsequent guesses. If only one of the copies were yellow, I think that would be confusing — players would have to infer that the other occurrences of the letter were also correct but misplaced, even though they were not colored to reveal that.

Coloring all the misplaced but correct letters yellow is the only consistent behavior, and avoids confusing the player about the meaning of a letter that's in the word but is gray, which implies that it's not in the word.

If Wordle in fact only colors one of the misplaced letters yellow, I think that's an error, a program bug — it sends the signal that a letter both is, and is not, in the word, and the player has to sort it out.

I hope this helps, and thanks for writing.

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