I was building an algorithm to never lose at Wordle, when I discovered the devil words that mean everyone is going to fail at Wordle. Everyone except you!
Wordle picks from a list of pre-chosen answers. On one dreadful day in the future, it will choose CATCH or HATCH and the internet will explode.
CATCH and HATCH are shenanagrams™. They are words that contain the same set of letters, but not necessarily in the same frequency. I'm making this definition up, but it's super useful - they are 'sort of' anagrams that cause shenanigans when playing wordle. Other shenanagrams include PIPER and RIPER or CHEEK and CHECK
Shenanagrams are especially dangerous in wordle if they only differ by one letter, as the only way to know which one is correct is to guess the right letter in the right place. In the CATCH, HATCH scenario you have to guess a word starting with C or H to work out the correct answer.
Obviously you've already read my post on choosing the best starting word. I've left that same algorithm running to see what it picks as the optimum 2nd, 3rd etc. word for every possible answer.
To make things slightly harder on the algorithm but easier on us, I limited it to only use words that could possibly be answers, rather than all the words that you can legally guess. This is similar to limiting it to words that you probably know.
As a quick reminder, the algorithm works out which guessed word guarantees to eliminate the most potential answers.
Having an algorithm find a great solution doesn't mean we should stop playing. Like chess and go, an algorithm can help us learn what some of the best strategies are and then we can enjoy using them with our own wit and ingenuity.
I deal with turn 1 more extensively here. At this point there's no information about the word, so the algorithm picks the same word every time. It's:
You may have worked this out already, but in the scenario of one letter in the right place, it's better to go searching for more information than to try and go for the final answer. If the I is in the right place the algorithm will not include an I in its next guess. This allows it to try more letters and therefore eliminate more words.
Converseley, if you've got one yellow, a letter that's correct but in the wrong place, it is best to go searching for where that letter could be. If the E is in the wrong place, the algorithm searches hard to work out where that E could be, and for its second turn picks a word with a double E to search two locations at once. This means even if it doesn't find the E it will still narrow it down to only two possible positions. This approach also tallies with our intuition, if we found out where the letter is, we can eliminate all the words that don't have that letter in that place.
The algorithm here aims to use as many of the most popular letters as possible. With our starting word, there doesn't exist a perfect complement that picks the top ten letters, so the algorithm settles for:
The algorithm continues with similar ideas for turn 3 unless by that point there's at least a couple of letters in the right place and one in the wrong place. Only then does it start to zone in on the actual answer. Prior to that it's trying to remove as many letters from play as possible.
One interesting word that the algorithm kept picking was HUMPH. And it's this that led me to the shenanagram discovery.
The words most likely to make you lose in Wordle are shenanagrams. The second most dangerous are 1-Letter Away Words. It turns out HUMPH helps differentiate between two large dangerous groups.
HUMPH quickly tests between: MOUND, POUND and HOUND as well as PATCH, MATCH and the very difficult HATCH. Both of these groups have other words that are just one letter away which means that even if you've got four letters right for turn 4 you could still be in trouble. The algorithm suggests that either of the groups are possible after turn 2, it's best to play HUMPH immediately!
And it is this secret sauce that we've got from the algorithm that is going to set you aside as an expert wordle player. Because when other players are excited that they've got ?ATCH you will have already eliminated most of the potential starting letters.
No other shenanagrams in wordle are as dangerous as HATCH and CATCH because they are also close to MATCH, BATCH, PATCH and LATCH. But for your pleasure, here's a list of all the ones I've found in wordle: