Tyro is a bit of crosswordese that means beginner or novice. Writing this reminds me of my first WORDLE in which I failed to guess TACIT in six tries. A tweet related to this puzzle which found its way into Rex Parker’s NYTimes Xword blog said something like the following: The answer reminds me of why I don’t do crosswords they are done by old people writing old words into the grid.

Turning to the main subject, as most of you probably know in WORDLE you get six tries to guess a five-letter word. On each turn you guess a five-letter word, a rule which prevents you from guessing say AEIOU to find out what vowels are present. If a letter is in the correct location  it shows green. If it is in the puzzle but not in the right place then it is white. If it is not in the answer it is gray. (Colors may vary) A copy of a computer key board on the screen allows you to enter you guesses and shows the status of each letter you have guessed.

As I start to give my advice I must admit I am still a novice but that never stopped TRUMP from pontificating on how to be president. In thinking about how to play WORDLE it is useful to know how frequently letters are used in the English language.

When Samuel Morse wanted to figure this out in the 1800s, he looked at the frequency of letters in sets of printers type which he found to be (numbers in thousands) E (12), T (9), A, E, I, O, S (8), H (6.4), R (6.2), D(4.4), L (4), U (3.4), C,M (3), etc. With computers and electronic dictionaries at our disposal we have a more precise idea (numbers are percentages).

E: 11.16                             A: 8.50                R: 7.58                I: 7.55                  O: 7.16                     41.95

T: 6.95                 N: 6.65                S: 5.74                L: 5.49                 C: 4.54                + 29.73 = 71.68

U: 3.63                D: 3.38                P: 3.17                 M: 3.01               H: 3.00                + 16.19 = 87.87

G: 2.47                B: 2.07                F: 1.81                 Y: 1.78                 W: 1.29               9.42

K: 1.102              V: 1.007              X: 0.290              Z: 0.272               J,Q: 0.196              2.93

Here the numbers in the last column are the sum of the numbers on the row and we have made 26 divisible by 5 by putting J and Q which have the same frequency to 3 significant figures into the same entry. This table become somewhat irrelevant once you visit


to find the letter frequencies in five letter words.

A: 10.5                E: 10.0                 R: 7.2                   O: 6.6                  I: 6.1                    40.4

S: 5.6                   T: 5.6                   L: 5.6                   N: 5.2                  U: 4.4                  + 26.4   = 66.8

Y: 3.6                   C: 3.6                   D: 3.3                  H: 3.1                  M: 3.1                 + 16.7   = 83.5

P: 3.0                   B: 2.7                   G: 2.6                  K: 2.1                   W: 1.6                 12.0

F: 1.6                   V: 1.1                   Z: 0.6                   X,J: 0.4                Q: 0.2                  4.3

Here E has fallen from the #1 spot. However, with the exception of Y climbing from 19th to 11th and P dropping from 13th to 16th it doesn’t seriously change the rankings, so I am not going to change my blog post due to this late breaking information.

The next thing to decide about WORDLE is what is your definition of success. I think of the game as being like a par-5 in golf. To take the analogy to a ridiculous extreme you can think of the game as par-5 in a tournament which uses the modified Stableford scoring system (like the Barracuda Open played at a course next to Lake Tahoe). Double bogey or worse (= not solving the puzzle) is -3, bogey (six guesses) -1, par (five) 0, birdie (four) 2, eagle (three) 5, and double eagle (two) 8 points.

I am not one who is good at brilliant guesses, so my personal metric is to maximize the probability of solving the puzzle. Hence I follow the approach of Zach Johnson who won the 2007 Masters by “laying up” on each par five. Most of these holes are reachable in two (for the pros) but 13 and 15 have water nearby so trying to hit the green in two and putting your ball in th water can lead to a bogey or worse. Zach hit his second shots to within 80-100 yards of the green so he could use his wedge to hit the ball close and make old school birdie.

My implementation of his strategy is to start with TRAIL, NODES, and CHUMP which covers all five traditional vowels and has 15 most frequent letters. The expected number of letters in the word this uncovers is (to use the five letter word frequencies) is  0.835 x 5 =  4.175 if all five letters in the word are different. (Recall from elementary probability that if Xi is the indicator of the event that the letter appear among the first 15 in frequency then E(X1 + … + X5) = 5EX1  Dividing by 5 shows that the expected number of letters in the right position is 0.835 (assuming again all letters are different), so on the average we expect a green and three yellos..

Of course the answer can have repeated letters and can be chosen by the puzzle creator to be unusual, e.g., EPOXY or FORAY which were recent answers. (It is now April 8). In several cases my first three guesses have produced only 2 letters in the word, which makes the birdie putt very difficult. Even when one has four letters, as in  _OUND, possibilities are bound, found, mound, pound, round, sound, wound, even though some of these are eliminated if they are in the first 15 guessed.

If there are three (or more) possibilities for the one unknown letter, then it can be sensible to use a turn to see which of these are possible in order to get the answer in two more guesses rather than three. Or you can be like Tiger one year at Augusta and “go for it all.” give your birdie putt on the 15th hole a good hard rap and watch it roll off the green into the creek. Fortunately for him, the rules of golf allowed him to play his next shot from the previous position.

These rules I have described are just to give you a start at finding a better strategy. You should choose your own three words not only to feel good about having done it yourself, but because the order of the letters can influence the probability of success. Of course you can also choose only to guess two (or only one) and then make your guess based on the result.  When I get several letters on the first two guesses, I have often substituted another word for CHUMP to get to the solution faster but I have often regretted that. On the otherhand sometimes when I play CHUMP I am disappointed to get no new positive information about what is in the word

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *