Wordle has taken over your timeline through pure force of pleasantness. Every day, an empty six-tiered grid appears in the world’s browser. We try to guess a secret five-letter word; with each entry the player learns if the letters they used appear in the solution, appear in the solution and are in the right place, or aren’t in the solution at all. So, you might navigate from ASKEW to ABLED, before eventually arriving at ABBEY.
There’s only one new Wordle puzzle a day, and designer Josh Wardle has not included any of the garish barnacles that tend to accrue to breezy mobile pastimes. That philosophy has made it a runaway success with hundreds of thousands of players. In a media environment awash with misinformation and division, it’s just kinda nice to spend a few minutes every day trying to guess a word.
But what if Wordle mutated into a much more confrontational, brain-burning trial? What if Wordle became evil? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Absurdle.
Absurdle is the invention of a designer who goes by the alias “qntm”. Consider it an alternative ruleset to Wordle – a game that sharpens the original premise into a horrific machiavellian scheme. The gambit is heady, but I’ll try to explain it the best I can.
Wordle is circled around a single word the player is trying to deduce by eliminating the letters on the board. Absurdle, on the other hand, never picks a specific answer, and instead pares down the list of potential solutions as little as possible with each entry.
So, for instance, if the player starts off with “PRUNE” Absurdle will identify a bucket of words composed of letters that do not appear in that five-letter combination and take refuge within it. Counter with “ADIEU” and the list gets smaller. The more guesses you make, the smaller the answer list gets, until a resolution is forced from the thick matrix of logic. The goal is to back Absurdle into a corner, where, through all of your guesses and potential letter arrangements, there is only one word in the dictionary that fits the algorithm that you and the game have created. Voila, you’ve beaten Absurdle at its own game.
“The technique which Absurdle uses is well known to anybody who’s ever played Hangman as the executioner,” says qntm. “There is always the temptation to change your chosen word or phrase retroactively to invalidate your opponent’s guesses. That’s almost exactly what Absurdle does.”
Qntm says that the inspiration for Absurdle grew, in part, out of another one of his projects called “Hatetris”. That game puts you in front of a cursed Tetris board that consistently serves up the worst possible piece. (Imagine getting three of the L-shaped blocks in a row? A fate worse than death.) The idea is to give a sense of personality to the AI system and let players wrestle with the ghost in the machine.
“In the same way that Hatetris was an experiment to find the most difficult possible variant of Tetris, Absurdle is an experiment to find the most difficult possible variant of Wordle,” explains qntm. “In both cases, I’m taking a seemingly single-player game and turning it into an adversarial, asymmetric two-player game; turning a passive computer into an opponent which is playing to win. I think that’s a fun twist.”
Already, a small contingency of obsessives have become consumed with the idea of Solving Wordle – breaking down this game to its core fundamentals through the raw power of coding and identifying the science-sealed ideal strategy to crush the puzzles, consistently, on the second or third try. (For what it’s worth, I’ve heard that “SOARE” is the most mathematically sound first guess.) So qntm wants Absurdle to be a challenge to other programmers. Achieving ideal Wordle strategy is one thing, ideal Absurdle strategy is quite another.
But qntm also balks at the idea that Absurdle somehow represents a more diabolical interpretation of our tranquil word game – one where we are engaged in an eternal duel with our smartphones. No, qntm believes that the only sinister Wordle spinoffs are the rip-offs popping up in droves on app stores. Absurdle might taunt you, but it aims to be an ally, not an enemy.
“Absurdle is up-front about the challenge it lays down for you,” he says. “The evil and confrontational variants of Wordle are the fake third-party clones for sale on the App Store. Don’t buy them. They aren’t by Josh Wardle. Don’t reward scummy behavior.”
“Wordle is free. Absurdle too. If you need either game on your phone, save a web link on your home screen.”