If you played Wordle religiously through 2022, you might remember one particularly rough day’s answer: Parer.
This turned out to be the most difficult word of the year, in part thanks to its use of a recurring ‘r’, but a GDC talk yesterday from Zoe Bell, the New York Times’ executive producer of games, revealed it broke a particularly whopping amount of streaks.
Typically, Bell explained, showing a chart that tracked players’ streak breaks over time, “15 percent of people break their streak on a given day – except that one day, with ‘parer’, where almost 60 percent of people broke their streak.”
When parer came up “we all groaned,” she joked, as it was what she called a bit of a “skyscraper word – because you end up with what looks like tall buildings on your board as you can’t get that last letter, because of all the possible options.”
The rest of Bell’s talk was a great listen – she noted that Wordle’s “mere existence” in the New York Times’ games portfolio caused their other games’ daily active users to shoot upwards. The addition of that little prompt to try out Spelling Bee, another word-based puzzle game, on Wordle’s end-game screen actually doubled Spelling Bee’s users, while 35 percent of new subscribers to the New York Times’ games section cited Wordle as the reason.
Bell also talked about the Times’ “first, do no harm” approach to Wordle after they bought it from its original creator, Josh Wardle, describing its viral success as “lightning in a bottle, and we did not want to let it out,” while also acknowledging that they knew its users would peak at some point. She also showed a graph highlighting its now levelled-out interest as noticeably higher than other viral hits like Pokémon Go.
She also acknowledged a few of the Times’ slip-ups, including the moment early on in their ownership where everyone’s streaks were accidentally wiped before – mostly – being repaired, and the time ‘fetus’ was the daily answer, the Monday after the US Supreme Court’s leaked documents showed they were considering overturning the Roe vs Wade ruling on abortion rights in the country.
Generally the Times’ process for other games, like the crossword, was to check that the crossword puzzle and Wordle and review the next three months or so, “just to make sure nothing that we had would be too controversial,” and so, when fetus was reviewed about three months before, “it seemed fine – but on May 3rd, the Supreme Court Roe draft leaked, and now ‘fetus’ was the word for the following Monday. And remember people don’t refresh their tabs.” They only spotted it at the last minute, thanks to an engineer who was working on the game.
Bell said the team discussed whether to change it, to talk about it, to not talk about it, and they settled on doing both. Despite that landing them a ribbing on comedy show Saturday Night Live, which got a good laugh from the talk’s audience, she said that of all the ways it could’ve gone, it ended up playing out “pretty well!”
Still, Bell emphasised the team intentionally avoids being topical – and likewise won’t do another themed answer again either, after a negative response to the team playfully picking ‘feast’ as the answer on Thanksgiving. (Although the Times did once make a special version of the game for a fan with ‘marry’ as the answer, so he could use it to propose to his partner who played the game.)
You can catch the full talk online via the GDC Vault on 14th April, albeit behind a paywall for access, and you can check our our guide to today’s Wordle answer if you’re stuck, too.