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Oh my Wordle! What is it and why is it so popular?

During the omicron surge, the word game is offering people a chance to connect and compete in a fun way.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Wordle wins the internet so far in 2022. 

The browser-based word game, introduced last fall by a New York City software engineer who originally created the puzzle for his partner, has gained millions of devoted followers in recent months as Omicron rages across the globe. 

Heck, even Jimmy Fallon has posted his Wordle results four times since the start of the New Year. "Update: Still hooked," he wrote on Jan. 7 to his 51 million Twitter followers. 

So, what's the deal?   

Wordle's appeal lies in its simplicity. It's free of charge, with no advertisements anywhere to be seen, and generates one five-letter mystery word to guess each day. The game gives you six chances to make guesses and try different letter combinations, but if you're not successful after those rounds, you're out of luck and have to wait until the next day to try again with a different mystery word. 

Then, win or lose, you can share your results on social media or just with friends and family. 

University of Florida social psychology professor Dr. Matt Baldwin is one of many joining the fun. 

"Definitely, within my circles in the academic world, there's almost a feeling that if you're not playing at this point, what kind of academic are you really? I imagine other groups out there have a similar thing going on," Baldwin said in a Zoom interview. "It's definitely a way to signal, 'I'm with you, I'm part of the same group and mission,' and it allows us to compare ourselves with others."

That's especially important during these difficult days of omicron. 

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"I think there's a lot of things going on with the game," Baldwin said. "A lot of our lives have moved online, and maybe we're really craving some kind of shared reality, right? Some kind of shared goal, something that brings us together."

As Baldwin points out, the game is virtually impossible to become addicted to, because you can only play once a day.  

But that only makes it more popular.  

"Psychologically speaking, it might have this perfect storm of elements to it, that makes it optimally challenging, but it doesn't require much of our attention. It doesn't get boring, but it also doesn't get overwhelming," Baldwin said. "It comes together to be a really perfect game, especially for us right now during these times."  

The popularity of Wordle, created by someone named Josh Wardle, led to a confusing situation for Steven Cravotta of Santa Monica, Calif.  

In a strange twist, Cravotta created an app five years ago named "Wordle!" – note the exclamation point – that only saw a few downloads a day for most of its existence. It has nothing to do with Josh Wardle's "Wordle" game, but about 10 days ago, Cravotta noticed a surge of downloads for his app. 

Users clearly didn't understand the difference between the two. 

"I honestly didn't know what was happening. I thought it was like fake downloads, or someone sent bot downloads to my app," Cravotta said over Zoom. "I realized that people didn't really know that (the other Wordle) was only on the browser, so they went to the app store naturally to find a mobile game, and mine was the first one to come up because it shared the same name. An incredible coincidence."   

But Cravotta didn't feel comfortable profiting off the mistaken downloads, especially since Josh Wardle never intended for "Wordle" to make any money or charge any fees. 

Together, they've decided to donate 100% of the proceeds to Boost! West Oakland, a non-profit in Cravotta's native California that tutors and mentors youth in the community. 

"We wanted to find a program focused on literacy, because that matches the gist of (Wordle)," Cravotta said. "I just wanted to respect Josh's mission, really. I read his articles, that he said he didn't want to make money off his game, and I respected that. He's the only reason this came to be, the reason my app got so many downloads. The only real option was to donate the proceeds."  

It's just another way that people are winning with Wordle. 

"It's absolutely incredible," Cravotta said. "It's an incredible game." 

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