By Neeraja Srinivasan
If there is one thing I love doing, endlessly, incessantly, ceaselessly, it is observing. However borderline creepy this sounds, I’m a watcher. Not in a ‘Joe Goldberg; I will hunt you down and stab you to death’ way but in a ‘Your Instagram story about Chocos from two weeks ago made me write a poem’ way. The little gestures, conversations and scenes I surround myself with shape my personality, and as a result of that, the art I create. In a post-pandemic world, a large chunk of my ‘artistic lurking’ exists in online spaces – namely Twitter. I like to think of Twitter as a cesspool of the world’s deepest, darkest, most random thoughts. My timeline is usually full to the brim with the perils of emotionally unavailable teenagers, extensive dissections of Taylor Swift’s songs, naive hopes of college campuses reopening in India and everything in between. However, recently, it seems like all of this collectively comes to a pause at midnight – for a good ten minutes, my timeline is taken over by little squares coloured in green, yellow and black. ‘Wordle’ is an online, once-a-day game that invites players to guess a five-letter word within six tries. After each attempt, the game tells you whether any of your letters are in the secret word and if they are in the correct place. The recent buyout of Wordle by The New York Times facilitated even more buzz around its sudden success.
One reason I find the Wordle phenomenon intriguing is the lesser-known history of crossword puzzles, which is what inspired its birth. The first-ever crossword was created by Arthur Wynne, an editor at the New York World to serve as a source of solace during the First World War. When the news began to be dominated by bleak headlines as the war progressed, he saw a need to give readers refuge in the form of puzzles that they had control over, as opposed to the fragmented world around them that spiralled out of control. Moreover, every puzzle had to pass the Sunday Breakfast Test; that is, clues and answers needed to be appropriate for all ages. Although the objective behind crosswords transitioned from relief to ritual, one thing remains constant – they bring diverse people together. We might speak different languages, belong to various cultures and lead contrasting lives but as long as we come together to solve the Wordle, something so microscopic yet so monumental, we’re all essentially the same right? This is precisely why I play and love watching others play Wordle, this habitual activity is so much more than a game. It’s a reminder that day-to-day rituals, laced with warmth and comfort will never change.
The utterly charming origin story behind the invention of Wordle is also what accelerated its fast-paced popularity. Josh Wardle conjured it up for his word-game loving partner. Now, along with 300,000 others around the world, they’ve built a little tradition of their own. In ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’, Jake realizes that he wants to propose to Amy while watching her solve a crossword. He looks over at her as if he could watch her do just that, for the rest of eternity. When you think of someone solving a word puzzle, you instantly think of solitary enjoyment; a head bent over the morning newspaper, faces scrunched up in concentration on buses to school, scribbles of clues on bits of paper. Still, I think we’d all like someone to solve the daily Wordle with. Someone to share our results with. Someone waiting to hear our thoughts on today’s answer. Someone to indulge in domestic sweetness with. I really do believe that the oldest of human needs is wanting someone to share our teeny, tiny redemptions with. There is hidden intimacy in basic tasks; buying orange juice, baking a cake, washing vessels, picking up laundry.
I’ve also been thinking about pandemic induced urban loneliness and how it has washed over us. How all our hearts could use some stitching back together. This is a genre of loneliness specific to overcrowded cities that never sleep. Of course the market’s bustling, movies are running and street lights, ever-shining. But that’s not what I’m referring to. Despite access to the internet, the promise of physical touch if I need it and close proximity to modern civilization, I’m often overcome with a post-leaving-your-best-friends house kind of daze. I’m convinced we try to interrogate this sadness by relishing in the ordinary, like playing a game of Wordle. In holding on to the knowledge that there are thousands of us who make it our mini-mission to finish the Wordle every day, and that there are other mini-missions we share, I find consolation.