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kottke.org posts about Wordle

Minimalist Wordle Grid Art

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2022

The Twitter account 5x6 Art is posting extremely abstract versions of notable artworks using the constraint of fitting them into Wordle’s familiar 5x6 pixel grid.

Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring rendered in a 5x6 pixel grid

Banksy's Girl with Balloon rendered in a 5x6 pixel grid

Gentileschi's Judith Beheading Holofernes rendered in a 5x6 pixel grid

Goya's Saturn Devouring His Son rendered in a 5x6 pixel grid

Obviously when you’re reducing artworks down to only 30 pixels of information, some of these are going to work better than others (e.g. Rothko and Mondrian). Still, some of the more detailed ones are just recognizable if you squint.

Wordle Sold to the NY Times. And That’s a Good Thing.

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2022

Yesterday, Josh Wardle announced that he had sold Wordle to the NY Times.

It has been incredible to watch a game bring so much joy to so many, and I feel so grateful for the personal stories some of you have shared with me — from Wordle uniting distant family members, to provoking friendly rivalries, to supporting medical recoveries.

On the flip side, I’d be lying if I said this hasn’t been a little overwhelming. After all, I am just one person, and it is important to me that, as Wordle grows, it continues to provide a great experience to everyone.

Given this, I am incredibly pleased to announce that I’ve reached an agreement with The New York Times for them to take over running Wordle going forward. If you’ve followed along with the story of Wordle, you’ll know that NYT games play a big part in its origins and so this step feels very natural to me.

And then a lot of people freaked out. “RIP Wordle” started trending on Twitter. Hands wrung and voices cried out that the game would no longer be free (even though both Wardle and the Times said that it would remain so). Some protested that the game is cheap to run, so what’s the problem? The general consensus seemed to be that Wardle was a greedy sellout who had deprived the public of a beloved game.

I’m so irritated at this reaction on behalf of Wardle. Lydia Polgreen gets it exactly right here:

Creator of Wordle: I can’t keep running this thing; I love the NYT puzzle peeps, they inspired me to make this thing you love, so I sold it to them! Twitter: How dare you give this thing we love a sustaining home!

Honestly, people. The choice isn’t between Wordle as it exists today and NYT Wordle. It is between no Wordle and NYT Wordle, or even worse, a much crummier acquirer.

Wardle made a free thing for his partner, it got out of hand, and it became overwhelming. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but people feel VERY INTENSELY about this game. It doesn’t matter if it only costs Wardle a few bucks a day to host…the psychological weight of it all must be immense. I’ve been running kottke.org for more than 23 years and let me tell you, the financial cost is not what keeps me up at night. (And yes, the site does keep me up at night sometimes.) And I built a site another site, Stellar, that folks loved pretty intensely, and while it never blew up like Wordle did, the strain of keeping it going became too much, I couldn’t see a way out of it, and I had to shut it down.1 That weight is real, folks, and shutting websites down, even when they are beloved, even when you would desperately love to keep them going, is sometimes the easiest option. All good things, etc. etc.

Sometimes, no amount of money or support or introduction of clever business model will help in a situation like this because the responsibility still remains — the millions of intense fans showing up every day, demanding their two minutes with five letters. Some people love that feeling, that pressure — they’ll lean right into that shit, bring it on — but clearly Wardle did not. So instead of shutting Wordle down, Wardle sold it to a really good steward that has clearly invested a lot of time and energy into building a strong puzzling presence and community. He secured an arrangement to keep the game free. And because this is capitalism, you can’t just sell something to the Times for a dollar — the Times is getting something of real value to their business and they should pay an appropriate price for it.

If people really care about this gift freely given and the person who made it (instead of focusing on what they get from it personally), they should recognize this as a good outcome. Will Wordle change? Will it someday not be free to play? Perhaps. Perhaps. But as Polgreen said, the choice here was “between no Wordle and NYT Wordle” and for right now, and into the foreseeable future, Wordle is alive and available for everyone to play. Let’s appreciate that.

Update: Bess Kalb:

Why are people mad the Wordle guy got paid? Pay the sweet Wordle man! Give him jewels and gold for his glorious letter squares! He got less than half what it could have been worth in a bidding war and he kept it a free game. Shower him with champagne and furs!

Caissie St. Onge:

I’m happy for Mr. Wordle. He made a game for his partner because she loved word games, then he shared it with all of us for nothing. Now he gets a million unexpected dollars. Because he loved someone!

Cyd Harrell:

proposing a term for NYT/Wordle: egg cream swan

we didn’t discover that the proprietor’s a bad guy, we’re happy for him; but the reality that supporting a small scale thing of beauty at large scale is beyond one person (now) & reasonable options are compromised…is bittersweet

Boom, nailed it. There’s an element of the players killing the thing they loved here — if the game hadn’t become so popular, a transfer of ownership would not have been necessary.

  1. People were *so* lovely and understanding about me shutting Stellar down. I was carrying so much weight — of expectation, of not wanting to let people down — and hundreds of hands reached out and helped me put it down. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.