You’ve probably heard of Wordle, the online puzzle game that has become a cultural phenomenon. What you might not know is that Wordle is the work of a University of Oregon graduate with a history of tantalizing the internet.
Wordle—which gives players six chances to guess a five-letter word each day—was dreamed up by British software engineer Josh Wardle, who studied digital arts at the University of Oregon and graduated with a master of fine arts degree in 2011.
The game’s success has been a major coup for Wardle, who used to work for Reddit. After its debut last November, Wordle went from attracting 90 players to 300,000 in one month.
Wardle’s handiwork has even attracted the attention of Saturday Night Live, which recently aired a cold open where Donald Trump (James Austin Johnson) plays the game, offering absurd word guesses like “Momoa.” Needless to say, proper nouns are unlikely to be found in Wardle’s list of about 2,500 approved Wordle words.
Wordle has been around in some form or other since 2013, when Wardle pulled the plug on a prototype of the game after it failed to enthuse his friends. He began reviving it in 2020 when he and his partner, Palak Shah, became obsessed with The New York Times Spelling Bee and crossword puzzles.
Wardle has said that he created the current iteration of Wordle for Shah.
“It’s really sweet,” Shah told The New York Times. “This is definitely how Josh shows his love.”
The game marks the third time that Wardle has created an internet sensation. He created the Reddit game The Button in 2015 and, two years later, he unleashed Place, a social experiment that encouraged conflict between users.
The University of Oregon has been reveling in the success of its graduate’s creation.
“Play Wordle?” the school’s official Twitter account tweeted on Jan. 19. “You can thank @uoregondesign alum Josh Wardle, MFA ‘11, for our newest daily obsession.”