For over a year now I’ve begun my morning on the computer by playing the game Wordle. For those who don’t know, it allows six tries in which to guess a five-letter word. Today’s word was ‘cache’. Thus, had I entered ‘chase’ as my first try, the ‘c’ and the ‘e’ would both appear in green color, meaning those letters are contained in ‘cache’ and are in the correct places. The ‘h’ and the ‘a’ would be yellow, meaning they’re also in ‘cache’ but not in the right spots. The ‘s’ would be colorless, meaning it’s not in the answer.
I usually solve the daily Wordle in under 30 seconds. Then, I play some other versions, in which the object is to solve multiple Wordles at once: Quordle (four), Octordle (eight), and Duotrigordle (32). There’s also a 16-Worldle version but I skip that one, simply because I can’t sit there playing games all day.
I also play Crosswordle, described as “Suduko meets Wordle,” and five versions of Nerdle, in which the object is to solve a numerical equation.
I play 10 games, and it usually takes me a total of 20 minutes. That mental exercise, along with my first glass of frappe, wakes up my brain and prepares me to go to work.
If any of this sounds like I’m bragging, my intent is the exact opposite. Because if I were to attempt, say, the New York Times crossword puzzle, which from Monday to Sunday becomes increasingly more difficult, I’d be lucky to solve any beyond Tuesday, and though I’d sit there all afternoon trying, I’d never come close to Sunday’s. I won’t even go near the Wall Street Journal’s puzzle.
My point is that I do so great at these Wordle-type games not because I’m brilliant, but because they’re so much easier than a crossword, and no good can come of this collective dumbing-down phenomenon and its unholy alliance with social media.
You see, many Americans jump on Facebook and similar platforms to squawk about how they solved the daily Wordle! That’s right, they’re boasting about an accomplishment they achieved usually in under a minute.
It’s easy to fall into that trap. I confess, the first time I played Wordle, I wanted to create a video to teach others how to play it well. Soon enough, much to my embarrassment, I realized that almost everyone I know also solves it in a matter of seconds. And that’s the problem. If you want to have a good sense of how we’ve lowered our standards, take a gander at social media’s glorification of mediocrity.
The problem started long ago, long before I had my own kids. I had visited a friend who told me her school-age daughter won a trophy in school that week. “That’s great!” I said to the little girl. When she left the room, my friend explained, to my astonishment: “everybody wins a trophy.”
Data miners have a stake in all of this, and social media is their tool to trick us out of information. Facebook is replete with memes stating: “there is no word in the English language that begins with an H and ends in a D. Prove me wrong!” The duped masses rush to flaunt their intellectual prowess by typing ‘heard’, ‘hound’, ‘heed’, ‘hold’ and countless others. They might want to write ‘hoodwinked’, because that’s what’s happening to them; their names are collected by bots that now tag them as Facebook users who’ll respond to a stranger’s post.
A “name your favorite band of all time” meme seems harmless enough, and so you type in: the Beatles. A week later, an unsolicited ad hits your feed, announcing a Beatles tribute band coming to your area for a concert soon. What’s the harm in that, you wonder. Maybe you’d like to go see that show.
But what if a bot figures out the password to your bank account, which is ‘Beatles’?
Also, did you ever wonder how a stranger’s meme makes it onto your screen? It usually costs money. Who would pay an advertising fee just for the innocent pleasure of observing strangers interacting online? Surely there’s another motive. Another way is through your Facebook friends. If your aunt Mary was gullible enough to happily type in ‘humid’ to that H-D ‘challenge’,” it will pop up on your screen too unless you’ve chosen the setting whereby you’re not really interested in looking at your friends’ online activity.
To paraphrase Socrates, the more I seek to learn the more I realize how much I don’t know. For instance, a crossword clue that recently stumped me was “Othello assistant.” The answer, apparently, is “Cassio” (I had never heard of him, I confess). I’d do better with Julius Caesar characters, but only because I was assigned to read that play in high school.
And that’s what’s great about a challenging crossword; it covers such a broad range of knowledge and advantages the rare few who are truly very well-rounded.
Some can answer “Girl with a Pearl Earring painter” while others know “George Herman Ruth’s nickname,” but very few can answer both.
Conversely, any human being beyond age seven, and possibly some other forms of primates, can reply correctly to: “Name a fish that begins with an ‘s.’”
Unplugging more from social media, or at least ignoring riddles from strangers that take you half a second to solve, is a good start to reversing the problem.
Oh, and that meme that dares you to “find a different number” when “592” is written 999 times, and “572” appears once, and claims “only 1 in 500 people can spot this,” that’s not true. All 500 can.