Why today’s Wordle answer is so hard, according to the experts

Another day, another irksome Wordle conundrum. Like puzzle #265 before it, today’s Wordle is proving a particularly tricky beast for players around the world to reckon with – but not for the same reasons as its predecessor. 

Once again, TechRadar spoke to Dr Matthew Voice, an Assistant Professor in Applied Linguistics at the UK’s University of Warwick, to find out the granular details behind puzzle #270. We also heard from Shaun Savage, Editor in Chief at Try Hard Games Guides, for more on today’s troublesome term.

Naturally, we’ll be divulging the solution to today’s puzzle below, so turn back now if you’re committed to weathering the latest Wordle alone. 

So, ladies and gents, today’s Wordle answer is CATER. Granted, that’s decidedly more obscure than WATCH (puzzle #265), but it’s not exactly a term that demands you dig out a dictionary. 

Dr Voice explained to us last week that WATCH was a prime example of an n-gram, i.e. a group of letters of a length (n) that commonly cluster together. Again, CATER is an n-gram with a length of four letters – a quadrigram – which presents similar problems, on top of some extra word-specific difficulty. 

It's all in the morphology

“Looking back at Project Gutenberg's list of common n-grams,” Dr Voice tells us, “you can really see why getting some of today's letters in place isn't necessarily narrowing down the possibilities. ER is the fourth most common combination of any two letters in the whole of the English language, it seems, and TER the twelfth most common combination of three.”

“That said,” he adds, “I also think it's interesting to think about why 'cater' might not seem like an immediately obvious option to everyone who's got the point of finding _ATER. The answer to this might be to do with our expectations about morphology – the way we combine together different parts of language to make new words.”

Morphology. Right, we’re following. 

“ER is a very common bigram partly because '-er' is a highly productive suffix in English. It can be added to the end of most verbs in order to make a new noun, usually to describe someone or something doing the original verb. So 'report' becomes 'reporter' and 'play' becomes 'player', for example.”

“So we might associate an '-er' ending with nouns in particular. The data for the eleven options to fill the last slot in _ATER bears this out, too: nine of them are nouns, with one adjective ('later') and our solution, 'cater', being the only verb in the group. Players caught thinking of 'verb + -er' words might have overlooked this exception.”

So there you have it, Wordle-ers. CATER is tricking you with its sneaky bigram, which is subsequently encouraging the mind to think of 'verb + -er’ words (which, of course, does not account for the existence of ‘cater’). 

This is what we learned from Shaun Savage, Editor in Chief at Try Hard Games Guides, on the matter of puzzle #270’s internet infamy: “While we definitely see more traffic on days where people need help figuring out what possible words the answer could be – with _ATER, people have a few words that likely came to mind! – we have seen the answer post trend higher in these instances, same with 'watch' and 'dodge'.”

“This past week's words haven't been too offbeat,” Savage adds. “We have seen steady traffic, but no mega surges like we have for a few words (‘vivid’ comes to mind) that are harder to figure out. The situation with _ATER, though, is that there are lots of possibilities, and all of them fit without specifically trying to eliminate more consonants.”

Well then, that's two tricky terms in the space of five days. Come on, Wordle, give us and our broken streaks a break...

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