Wordle Opening Guesses: My Spirited Strategy

Last week we took a break from the usual armchair pontification about politics and world events. We looked at the popular game, Wordle, now owned (or at least managed) by the New York Times. (Warning: There are lots of pretenders out there seeking to steal your money. I recommend typing “Wordle” into a search engine, then scrolling until you find the New York Times version. It’s free. At least as of now.)

As Spirited Reasoners know, the object of the game is to discover the mystery five-letter word in six guesses or less. So, last week, we looked at a counter-intuitive trick for gathering information. We learned to guess words that would use the maximum number of unused letters in the fewest possible tries. Since last week’s example presupposed a degree of success in guessing some initial letters, I promised a follow-up posting that would focus on how to find those few correct letters in the first place.

This week I’m making good on that promise. Here’s an opening strategy I’ve used with great success. (By “great success” I mean putting myself in a position to find almost every hidden word within at total of four or five guesses at most.)

My strategy is to focus on vowels before turning to consonants. Since there are only six vowels whose presence is required in every common five-letter, I choose my first two guesses so that all six vowels will be used by the end of those two guesses. My usual picks are “BEAUT” and “DOILY.” Note that by playing these two guesses on my first and second tries, I will know for certain which vowels are NOT in the mystery word. That knowledge alone will eliminate thousands of five-letter words. But I will still need to be careful. Sometimes the mystery word uses the same vowel twice, as in a word like LEAVE or PROOF.

Note that I almost always play both BEAUT and DOILY (or DOILY, then BEAUT, depending on my mood) regardless of what I learn after my first guess. Even if two or three letters turn yellow or green after my first guess, I still go ahead with DOILY (or BEAUT) on my second guess, to make sure I have my vowels straight. It’s a mistake, in my opinion, to jump ahead with the guessing game too early; i. e., before gathering more information about vowels.

An exception to that last rule occurred a day or two ago, when the mystery word happened to be “SAUTE.” On that particular day, I happened to play BEAUT as my first guess, noting that four of my letters were yellow. (Beaut indeed!) So, given that rare stroke of luck, instead of moving ahead with my usual DOILY play, I studied the four yellow letters, asking myself what possible five-letter words could be made from the letters E, A, U, and T, with the added requirement that all four of those letters needed to move to a new location, because they were all yellow rather than green. I studied my keyboard and could only think of SAUTE, TAUPE, and ACUTE. I decided it was worth guessing at this point, since I could safely guess SAUTE and would know whether to guess TAUPE or ACUTE on my third guess by staring at the color of the letter T. Even if there were other words including E, A, U, and T that I hadn’t thought of, I figured one guess would supply enough information to lead me closer to the mystery word. Imagine my delight when all five letters of SAUTE popped up green! I had found the mystery word in only two guesses.

But alas, that was an exception. As a rule, I always play both BEAUT and DOILY. (Another similar combination would be RAISE followed by LOUSY. You get the point. You want to use all six vowels in only two guesses.) Given this particular strategy, the toughest words tend to be those that use the same vowel twice. I must therefore remind myself every day to remain alert to that possibility.

What happens after I’ve figured out my vowels but still have no consonants to help? That’s the subject for yet another post.