Every morning at 7:30 a.m. sharp, Loyola junior Katherine Mudd plays The New York Times mini-crossword.
“It’s devastating when I wake up too late and can’t do it,” said Mudd, 20. “My mornings are pretty tight because I have to go to class.”
She said she likes the game because it’s a different challenge from class. And since it’s not as competitive as other problem-solving games, like Wordle, she said she could play it whenever and however she wanted.
Weekday mini-crosswords typically work in five-by-five grids with simpler clues and answers than their full-size counterparts. Weekend minis are larger, usually in seven-by-seven grids. Daily minis are free on The New York Times app.
Mudd discovered mini crosswords through Loyola’s subscription to The New York Times. She said she thinks the game is more popular with young people because of the news reading habits of different generations. She pointed to newspaper readership of different generations as the reason for the game’s popularity among young people.
“Older people read the newspaper and I read The New York Times on my phone,” Mudd said.
She is not alone in this morning ritual.
Whether student or teacher, young or old, casual gamer or super fan, the New York Times gaming complex has made its presence known at Loyola.
The latest addition to the company’s line of games is Wordle. The purchase, reportedly for a low seven-figure fee, made headlines in January.
Users play Wordle by guessing a five-letter word in six tries. Correct letters in the wrong order flash yellow, correctly placed letters flash green, and letters that don’t appear at all remain a disappointing dark gray.
Hundreds of thousands of people play Wordle every day, according to the New York Times. So far, it has spawned hundreds of spin-offs. Some of the most popular include Nerdle, for math equations; Worldle, for geography; and Quordle, for four words at a time.
Millennials and Generation Z dominate Wordle’s audience, according to a Morning Consult poll.
Mudd said she thinks the generational gap in gameplay varies from person to person.
“My trial simulation coach was like, ‘Wordle? What kind of unheard of stuff are kids doing these days?’” Mudd said. “And once we explained it, he said: “Oh, okay, that’s kinda dumb, but okay.””
But other teachers think differently – Mudd said another teacher of his played Wordle and encouraged his class to play it.
Communication teacher Jessica Brown said crossword puzzles never really clicked for her until Wordle.
“I probably tried crossword puzzles 10 or 15 years ago, and I always thought, ‘These are shows my mom could have watched,'” Brown said. “It all depends on who the content creators are.”
For Wordle, “these are just words,” she said. “But if I don’t understand those words, I’m going to feel bad about myself, which is terrible. And that’s what motivates you.
Brown said she thinks Wordle is enjoying both the isolation and the anxiety of the pandemic.
“It can be a nice, quick getaway after a hard day if you just want to take five minutes and not think about anything too difficult,” Brown said. “For me, it was being able to play on my own while finding community.”
She compared current social media trends to those of the early days of quarantine.
“Whether it’s baking bread or encouraging healthcare workers…things that people have started doing en masse, on a regular basis, I think that’s probably the last thing we’ve all started to do,” Brown said.
Brown said she loved Wordle for the community she cultivated on social media.
“It brings people joy,” Brown said. “And that’s pretty awesome, especially in the times we live in.”
The same Morning Consult poll found that 43% of Americans said they found Wordle through social media. After playing all day, users can copy a link to post their scores on social media and compare streaks with friends or followers. In March, Google searches for “Wordle” skyrocketed up to twelve times more than searches for “crossword”.
But Wordle isn’t just a Twitter phenomenon. Sophomore Sophia Stamov heard about the game through her friends and TikTok.
“They were texting emojis, which I wouldn’t understand,” Stamov, 20, said. “They wouldn’t post on social media, but they would put it in group chats.”
First-year Sara Ali said she started playing Wordle before the New York Times deal and hopes it will remain free. Ali, 18, said she also played word search and sudoku when she was younger.
“I’ve always been good at it,” Ali said. “I won’t stop until I have the answer.”
And despite her love of problem-solving games, she said she still felt the judgment of older generations.
“I would expect millennials and older generations to be surprised that we were playing it,” Ali said. “I think their expectations of us are pretty low and it’s weird. Like, word searches were literally my life.
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