I lost Wordle for the first time this week, and the New York Times owns it. Coincidence? Absolutely, yes. Do I still want to blame the Times? Absolutely, yes.
The original Wordle creator, Josh Wardle, made the game for his partner, and has had a planned list of words mapped out for months. The Times said the only change it made was removing a few words that were thought to be too obscure, thereby actually making Wordle a bit easier.
“Since acquiring Wordle, The Times has not made the puzzle harder,” communications director Jordan Cohen told Mashable, adding that it removed ‘AGORA’ last week “in an effort to make the puzzle more accessible.”
“We will continue to review the solutions, and remove obscure or potentially insensitive words,” Cohen said.
So, we know the Times isn’t at fault for the perceived difficulty bump — and that there really isn’t any increased difficulty in the game at all. So why do we all think Wordle is getting so much harder, despite the precise knowledge that it is not? Maybe we’ve now been playing long enough that we’re bound to start losing a few. Or perhaps we just want something to blame, like when toxic gamers notoriously cry “lag” to hide their poor performance.
Rachel Kowert, the research director for Take This, a non-profit that provides mental health resources to the gaming community, told Mashable that she also thought the game had gotten more difficult, even though she knows that isn’t actually true. She says this could be because we, as humans, are more likely to want to blame someone else than blame ourselves.
“It’s not that I am unable to figure out this puzzle today, it’s that they made the puzzle too difficult to figure out,” Kowert said.
Another idea, Kowert said, is a cognitive bias called anchoring and adjustment — in which your decisions are influenced by a specific reference point. For instance, if you’re shopping for an instrument and see a guitar that costs $30,000 next to one that’s $3,000, you’ll likely see the second guitar as cheap, even though, in reality, $3,000 is a lot of money.
In this scenario, you might have an opinion of the New York Times that it is a sophisticated paper with notoriously difficult puzzles to solve. So, when the Times bought Wordle and began hosting the game on its site, and you had a difficult time solving one of the words, you might assume it’s because of the Times’ zeal for difficulty.
“So now Wordle is taking me six tries today instead of four, which could happen regardless of who owns it,” Kowert said. “But I’m gonna say that’s because of the New York Times.”
One Twitter user pointed out in a viral thread that the entire practice of believing it’s more difficult is a study in confirmation bias, too. People already disliked the Times or its games for one reason or another, and once they struggled with a puzzle or two, it became easy to blame the paper.
Kowert added that social contagion — the process of ideas spreading through a network — plays a huge role in this as well. Once enough people believe in something, it’s easy to believe it along with them.
Even when we’re shown evidence that Wordle isn’t getting more difficult, we don’t want to believe it, because it doesn’t feel true — and, sometimes, we follow our feelings much more than we follow factual evidence.
Which is why I’m taking advice for my new five-letter starting word for Wordle: facts or feels?