A history of the Wordle list and opener algorithms
Wordle has changed. It started out with just over 2300 potential solution words. After some editing, NYT settled at 2309 solution words, each one scheduled to appear on a set day. After 2309 days of play, all 2309 words would have appeared as a solution.
So far so good. People enjoyed playing Wordle and that list of 2309 words was more than adequate for a good time. But a nagging question arose: What’s the best opening word? In order to answer that question, NYT created a “Wordlebot.” Their bot performed best when opening with CRANE. So there it was! The definitive answer for the best opening word. Well, sort of…
A professor and PhD student at MIT teamed up to answer the same question. After developing and testing their algorithm, the word SALET emerged as their bot’s best opener. (Other top contenders included: REAST, TRACE, CRATE and SLATE.)
The new Wordle word list and NYT’s bot
Now, what about that Wordle-change? Turns out the NYT has expanded its Wordle list to about 3150 potential solution words. But here’s the catch, some words are more likely to be used as a solution than others. In fact, for each distinct word, they’ve assigned a probability for it being used as a solution. FYI: past tense words ending in -ED, like IDLED and ACHED are not that likely to make the cut.
Some of the new words from the expanded list have already made an appearance. For example, just this last March (the 27th to be exact), one of them appeared for the first time when the daily Wordle solution was GUANO. Since then, BALSA, KAZOO and SNAFU have also appeared as solutions. Like GUANO, they were all new words that were not a part of the original list of 2309.
This updated wordlist has an impact on what words work best as openers, and the NYT bot now favors SLATE as its best word for starting a game. But what about MIT’s bot; did it adjust its favorite opener for the new list? Doesn’t look like it. In fact, its bot stalls when trying to solve for one of the new words. Try it for yourself here.
Love and Science’s [updated] killer bot strikes again
Now where does that leave Love and Science? You might remember that we created a bot and came up with our own list of best opening words. Since that time, we’ve turbocharged our bot’s solution engine and used it to develop a new predictive model for best opening words. We tried it out on the old list (2309 words) and then tried it on the new, expanded list. Here’s what happened:
Using the old list of 2309 words, our updated, turbocharged bot came up with SALET as its best opener. Since it matched MIT’s choice, we decided to compare our bot’s other top contenders with the contenders MIT came up with for the old list. As mentioned earlier, after SALET, MIT came up with: REAST, TRACE, CRATE and SLATE. Our bot’s top contenders after SALET were: TARSE, SLATE, REAST, CRATE, TRACE, CARTE, CARLE, CARET, CRANE and TRICE.
Okay, but that’s ancient history. What’s the best opening word now? Did the NYT nail it? Is it really SLATE?
Love and Science’s bot weighs in on the new best opener
We took a good look at Wordle’s new expanded list along with the probability ratings for each of the approximately 3150 words mentioned earlier. After factoring all of that information into our bot’s engine, we ran our predictive model and came up with the top 3* best opening words (in descending order, starting with the best):
*NOTE: Our bot’s predictive model relies on sampling rather than fully playing out each possibility. We expect its process to be very accurate. Why go with sampling? Here’s why: Although millions of combinations are sampled, the whole process only takes hours to complete, compared to the days that would be expected for exhaustively working through every possible solution against every possible starting word.
TARSE? Yep, it took the prize. What does it mean? Various definitions out there, but here’s the one we’re going with: A male falcon.
After those top 3, other top contenders for best starting word include:
So there you have it. Open with TARSE and you can’t go wrong! Or go with the NYT bot and open with SLATE (our bot rates SLATE pretty darn high). Or keep on using your own favorites and battle on. No matter how you play it: Happy Wordling!
Post Script: thanks to our predictive modeling
After running our predictive model, we pulled out the top 10 starting words that we consider more common to everyday usage. While our bot may not like this list quite as much as the previous list, for us humans, any one of its words should perform fairly well.