Tracey Bennett. Collage includes Photo by NY TImes

Wordle’s First Editor Shares How She Chooses The Day’s Winning Word (and Which Has Been Her Fave So Far)

by Emily Lauletta

Everyday, close to 3 million people begin their day in the exact same way: by playing the New York Times game, Wordle. And  hundreds of thousands of them share their scores via social media such as Twitter. 

What is Wordle?

Wordle has been an extremely popular game since its creation by Josh Wardle in 2021, and has remained popular (and free) since it was acquired by the New York Times in June, 2022. In fact, Wordle was Google’s most searched word of the year in 2022.

The game challenges users to guess a 5-letter word in under 6 tries. With each try, the game lets the player know if they guessed any letters of the winning word correctly, and whether the letter is in the correct or incorrect position in the word. Writing out the instructions this way make it sound more complicated than it seems; it’s actually quite simple to play, which is one of the reasons why it is so very popular.

For the first few years after its creation, each day’s winning word was selected at random. But since November 2022, the New York Times has hired Tracy Bennett to be its Official Wordle Editor. Bennett first began with the NYT as an associate puzzle editor in 2020.

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Getting the Job

Bennett has been writing and editing crossword puzzles for years now, including contributing puzzles to BUST since 2014. Her first BUST puzzle was called “French Twists” and had sexy puns made out of French portmanteaux (BAGUETTE OFF, SILHOUETTE DREAM, ESCARGOT DOWN, TABLEAU JOB…), and she’s been our regular crossword puzzle contributor since 2017.

It all comes back to Deb Amlen facilitating the BUST gig!

“My current role arose as a direct result of other women going out of their way to make room for me at the table,”  Bennett explains. Deb Amlen, the original columnist for BUST’s edgy, feminist X-Games crossword puzzle, offered the role to Bennett when she was ready to step down. “A few years later, Amy Reynaldo offered me a spot on the Crosswords With Friends roster. Both of these gigs were instrumental in giving me steady experience in developing themes, making grids and writing clues,” Bennett says. “ These foundational opportunities prepared me for taking on a full-time role at the New York Times, which started in 2020.  A year later, I was in the right place at the right time to take on the Wordle editor role.  It all comes back to Deb Amlen facilitating the BUST gig!”

Why She Thinks Wordle Succeeds

When asked about what has contributed to the success of Wordle, Bennett offered two possible explanations; strategy and luck. “It’s a nice game in that a lot of times strategy works, and occasionally it’s luck. That’s a really good game. It keeps people who are very good at strategy interested,” she says.

The timing of the game, as it rose to fame during the COVID-19 pandemic, has also contributed to its success, Bennett believes. “ It was a reason to communicate on a daily basis about something that was much more joyful than current topics perhaps.” 

Its shareability has also allowed Wordle to flourish. “I think that was a big reason why it got to be this daily connection point for people during the pandemic,” she says. “You could share [your results] without spoiling [the word of the day] and you could brag about your results or sympathize with others about how hard it was.” 

How She Picks the Words, and Her Favorite Word So Far

Part of Bennett’s job is to measure how people are reacting to the word of the day on social media. This is helpful for her to assess whether her predictions on the difficulty of a word were correct or not. One  word recently surprised Bennett that it was so difficult for people to guess. “One of them that I was way off on was ‘Judge.’ I thought it would be easy because there aren’t that many words that go ‘__-U-D-G-E’, but there are enough that if it takes you three guesses just to get that, then you’re still gonna have a hard time guessing the last letter.”

“I do forget the words that I have lined up, so I can play. It’s just that instead of having 2,700 possible words to choose from, it’s more like a hundred.”

Of course there’s one thing we all want to know: Was Bennett  a Wordle fan before taking on this role, and if so, was she amazing at the game given her expertise in word puzzles? “I think as a game player and a puzzle solver, I’m pretty average. I’m not exceptional,” Bennett says, admitting that her average number of guesses before winning the game was probably four, which is the average for most Wordle players.

When asked whether her new role has ruined enjoying the game, Bennet responds, “I do forget the words that I have lined up, so I can play. It’s just that instead of having 2,700 possible words to choose from, it’s more like a hundred. So it is kinda ruined for me. I’m like the only person who doesn’t get to play Wordle.” While this is an unfortunate circumstance, Bennett is doing the lord’s work by keeping this addicting game alive for the rest of us. 

As for picking the words, Bennett usually uses a random number generator that will pick out a word based on an already curated list of words. She then reviews the words that have been selected, and makes sure they make sense together over the span of a week. “If I end up with five words that begin with ‘G’ randomly, or with words that have the same double letters, or are similar like all nouns, I don’t really want that, so I might ‘re-randomize,” she says.

Her favorite word so far? Blurb. ” I like the word, I like the way it sounds. It has a feeling and a meaning that I like.”

For those who are wondering, Bennett’s favorite Wordle word since she’s taken on the role of Editor is (drum roll please) “blurb.” “It was tougher for people than I expected,” she says. “I think because there are two ‘B’s,’ and ‘B’ isn’t [typically] one of the first guessed letters. I like the word, I like the way it sounds. It has a feeling and a meaning that I like.”

When Bennett isn’t making iconic crosswords for BUST or helping to manage one of the most popular word games in the world, she enjoys catching up on TV shows with her sister. “My sister and I are now watching the new Natasha Lyonne show Poker Face, on Peacock. It’s really good,” Bennett says. And, she adds, as a newly appointed “empty-nester,” she’s finally been able to sit down and watch the shows she’s been told she should watch for years, such as Breaking Bad, and Better Call Saul.

We can’t wait to follow what entertaining (and yes, frustrating) words Bennett will be bringing to Wordle, and what amazing crosswords she has in store for BUST.

Photo of Tracy Bennett in collage, top  by Earl Wilson for the New York Times

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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