Tuesday 1 February 2022

Wordle, Wardle

 So the New York Times has bought the hugely successful online word game Wordle. To me this smacks of desperation, the last throw of a publication that can no longer be regarded as a serious newspaper – but it could well work, especially when the Times starts charging for it, as it surely will. Anyone who's worked in newspapers knows that puzzles, horoscopes and perhaps the sports pages are what really sell papers, not all that worthy, toiled-over editorial. Make a mistake in a news story – it happens all the time – and chances are it will be barely noticed, but make a mistake in a crossword clue and all hell breaks loose.  So it look as if, in the interests of survival, the Times will end up as a word game with a newspaper attached. 
  Wordle is a simple and elegant game, and its inventor deserves his lucky break. It reminded me of the game of 'word golf' – a descendant of Lewis Carroll's 'word ladders' – that turns up more than once in Nabokov. In Pale Fire the narrator notes some of his records – 'Hate to Love in three, Lass to Male in four, and Live to Dead in five (with "Lend" in the middle)' (changing one letter at a time). 
  The inventor of Wordle rejoices in the name of Wardle (appellative determinism?) – which will remind any cricket lover of the great spin bowler of the Fifties Johnny Wardle. A Yorkshire star (inasmuch as they had 'stars' in those days), he published an article in the Daily Mail in 1958, criticising the club's committee. For this effrontery he was dropped by both Yorkshire and the MCC. How very different from the response a couple of years ago to Azeem Rafiq's complaints... Times change.  

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