Why your usual Wordle strategy isn’t working today, according to a linguistics professor

If you’ve found today’s Wordle answer more difficult than most, you’re not alone. Puzzle #256 has proven so tough, in fact, that we’ve been live-blogging the internet’s reactions to the latest headache-inducing five-letter term. 

But why is today's answer proving trickier than others? TechRadar spoke to Dr Matthew Voice, an Assistant Professor in Applied Linguistics at the UK’s University of Warwick, to find out the science behind the struggle. 

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. 

Ok, here goes. Today’s Wordle answer is WATCH. Yep, little old WATCH – by all accounts, a fairly simple, universally-accepted noun and verb. Don’t worry, we’re kicking ourselves too. But Professor Voice explains that there is some genuine reasoning behind why you (and we) may not have been so quick on the draw this week.

“[In your live blog] you've already talked about _ATCH as a kind of trap. This is an example of an n-gram, i.e. a group of letters of a length (n) that commonly cluster together. So this is an n-gram with a length of four letters: a quadrigram,” Professor Voice tells us. 

“Using [this] Project Gutenberg data, it's interesting to note that _ATCH isn't listed as one of the most common quadrigrams in English overall, but the [same] data considers words of all lengths, rather than just the five letters Wordle is limited to. I don't know of any corpus exclusively composed of common 5 letter words, but it might be the case that _ATCH happens to be particularly productive for that length.”

Understand your quadrigrams

“The other thing to mention,” Professor Voice adds, “would be that the quadrigram _ATCH is made up of smaller n-grams, like the bigram AT, which is extremely common in English. So we're seeing a lot of common building blocks in one word, which means that sorting individual letters might not be narrowing down people's guesses as much as it would with other words.”

So there you have it. WATCH may in fact be too simple a word, after all – so much so that your usual method of deduction doesn’t account for the myriad possible solutions. 

Here's hoping tomorrow's answer is a little more... difficult?

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