Did you have trouble with? wordle Today? I sure did, my second fail ever since I started playing the game at the beginning of the year. I was more annoyed with myself than with the puzzle and softened that frustration by share my results on Twitter.
While doing that, I realized why the auto-generated emoji grids in the game are so brilliant. It’s not just that they’re social (although that certainly helps), nor that they’re intriguing (there’s no link to the game and no explanation for the uninitiated as to what the emoji means). No, it’s because each grid tells a story with beautiful brevity. With only 30 squares and three colors, Wordle’s emoji results bring stories of happiness, frustration, perseverance and failure; each grid a miniature story, like a landscape painted in a matchbox.
Okay, okay, I get it – this sounds a bit exaggerated! But check out my failed result from today below. You see that I make a good start and immediately score two correct letters in the correct positions. Then I try again, and, okay, I don’t get any more hits, but I still have that solid foundation. One more try: nada. Two more: still nothing! Then the sixth and final guess, and crash: I fail completely, those two solid lines of green emoji forming a comical anticlimax, like a pair of skidmarks disappearing over the edge of a cliff.
At least that’s how I see it. In my head.
had an absolute mare
— James Vincent (@jjvincent) January 13, 2022
To rationalize this a bit more I guess Wordle’s emoji results work particularly well as storytelling devices for two reasons. The first is that they are chronological. Like panels in a cartoon, you read the emoji as a story, with each line – each guess – building on the previous one. Unlike a high score from a video game or a completed crossword puzzle, these aren’t just trophies of skill, but replays of the entire game. You know that if someone got all green on their second guess, their win was more luck than skill. But when you see them fight through gray and yellow squares to the sixth line, you know the victory has cost guts.
The second reason is that each grid is something of a roman key. By this I mean that if you’ve played the game in question, you’ll recognize which letters the player got right and wrong so you can work out the story in your head (and maybe compare it to yours). That’s where the social element comes in (as well as Wordle’s puzzle-a-day mechanism): it encourages you to play the game yourself and better decipher your friends’ achievements.
The only downside to this system is that the results — like all emoji — aren’t particularly friendly to people using a screen reader. Rather than offering a visual snapshot, they become a robotic lament by [Green square] [Three wide large square] [Yellow square] and so on, like a tar pit of emoji description. (The best way around this, I’ve only recently learned, is to take a screenshot of the results and then add a description to the alt text.)
Of course, the popularity of wordle is more or less guaranteed to flame out every day. And when that happens, all those emoji grids revert to their natural, muted state; no longer mean tales of grit and triumph, but become again, just colored squares. It’s the only right ending to viral fame: all those lost moments, like emoji in the timeline.