Uncovering Wordle’s Cheating Phenomenon: A Data-Driven Analysis

Wordle, the captivating word game that captured the world’s attention in 2021, has evolved from humble beginnings as a creation for family and friends into a sensation with millions of players worldwide.

Developed by a Welsh software engineer, the game’s objective is simple: guess a five-letter word within six tries with the help of color-coded clues indicating correct letter placements.

The New York Times acquired Wordle in January 2022, making it accessible to a broader audience while introducing intriguing analytics for players to explore. However, beneath the surface, a surprising revelation lurks: data analysis suggests that a substantial number of players are engaging in blatant cheating.

The Cheating Conundrum

James Dilger, a researcher from Stony Brook University in New York, discovered this by delving into the game’s analytics over several months. His study, while light-hearted in tone, exposes a rather unsettling truth: up to 10,000 players consistently cheat in Wordle.Dilger’s investigation began when he noticed that Wordlebot routinely displays widespread first-guess words, along with other select data points.

Analyzing data collected between May 3 and August 31, 2023, Dilger uncovered some describing trends. Despite Wordle’s internal vocabulary of 2,315 words from which the correct answer is chosen, the chances of guessing correctly on the first attempt are statistically slim, with a mere 0.043% probability. Yet, Dilger’s data reveals that the percentage of players achieving this feat never dips below 0.2%, equivalent to 4,000 players, and sometimes reaches 0.5%, indicating a possible 10,000 cheaters.

Dilger boldly labels these individuals as “cheaters” and highlights their perplexing word choices for initial guesses, such as “NANNY” or “IGLOO,” which provide minimal information for solving the puzzle. Interestingly, the data also suggests that the rate of cheating may be declining, leaving room for speculation about the reasons behind this shift.

The Enigma of Starting Word Loyalty

Another intriguing aspect of Dilger’s research involves players’ loyalty to specific starting words. While players often stick with the same initial word guesses, they swiftly abandon these choices on the rare occasions when they turn out to be the correct answer. This abrupt shift suggests the influence of cheaters on word selection.

An exception to this loyalty trend occurred when the New York Times crossword included a clue about the “Most popular starting word for Wordle,” with the correct answer being “ADIEU.” This prompted approximately 30,000 players to abandon their strategies and follow the crowd.

A New Frontier in Word Game Studies

Dilger’s study stands out as the first to provide quantitative evidence of cheating in Wordle, surpassing the realm of social media postings, surveys, and Google Trends. Despite the temptation to cheat, Dilger, a Wordle enthusiast himself, acknowledges the genuine bewilderment shared by him and his family over why first-word cheaters find the game enjoyable.

In conclusion, Wordle’s rise to fame has been accompanied by a surprising undercurrent of cheating, as revealed by detailed data analysis. While the cheaters remain a mystery, one thing is clear: Wordle continues to captivate and intrigue players, both honest and otherwise, as they seek to unlock its linguistic challenges.

Additional Insights into Wordle

Aside from uncovering the cheating phenomenon, Wordle players have six attempts to guess the daily target word, receiving color-coded feedback after each guess. Information Theory is employed to assess players’ luck and skill, with data presented for the first to sixth guesses. Dilger’s data compilation from May 2023 to August 2023 also revealed the following:

  • Approximately 0.2% to 0.5% of players solve the puzzle in one attempt, implying that 4,000 to 10,000 players cheat by obtaining the target word outside regular gameplay.
  • Over one-third of players have a favorite starting word, often remaining loyal to it despite word repetition.
  • On August 15, 2023, about 30,000 players changed their starting word, likely influenced by a crossword puzzle clue, showcasing Wordle players’ susceptibility to external factors.

This study not only sheds light on cheating but also provides valuable insights into the world of Wordle that extends beyond conventional research methods. Whether you’re a dedicated Wordle enthusiast or just intrigued by the mystery of cheating, the game’s appeal remains undeniably strong.

Intrigued by Wordle’s secrets? Share your thoughts and strategies with us, and let the Wordle community continue to thrive. Until next time, ADIEU!