Starting Words & Strategies…
Wordle Cousins are enjoyable games in their own right. And my Wordle blog was so well received that I can’t help offering you tips for playing what I call Wordle Cousins. These are games inspired by Wordle, but with such distinctive differences that you may want to try these in addition to the original, still-the-best, Wordle game.
TMI Caution: My friend Jim Blue used to say, “It’s like the book about elephants: it tells you more than you wanted to know.” That’s your Too Much Information warning about today’s blog!
Crosswordle – Reverse Wordle Cousins
First on the list is Crosswordle, one of the distinctive Wordle Cousins. My thanks to friend Karen McCarthy for introducing me to this game, which is a real winner!
In Wordle, you keep guessing words to discover the letters in the answer word. Crosswordle is like “hard mode” Wordle played in reverse (!). That is, you are given only the answer word, and all the yellow and green boxes leading up to it. It’s up to you the player to play Wordle backwards and fill in all the previous words. Fortunately (and essentially!) the game not only flags incorrect answers, it explains what’s wrong with each of them.
However, that summary doesn’t do justice to Crosswordle. To win Wordle, you need to have mental access to words that contain a variety of letters that you haven’t previously used. Vocabulary helps of course, but also an ability to anagram, that is, rearrange letters to spell words.
Crosswordle is different. Vocabulary is still important, but anagramming is not. Instead, you need to be able to analyze the various ways to assign letters to the colored boxes. In addition, you have to think ahead to make sure you don’t run out of options.
How Crosswordle Differs
Let me explain what I mean.
Sometimes Crosswordle will present you with only a few rows of words. The accompanying screenshot shows four rows, with yellow and green boxes scattered through all the rows. Each word must make use of everything you learned in the previous words, and give exactly the color pattern that you’re presented with. Give it a try and you’ll probably encounter red flags that explain which Wordle rule you’re violating.
However, on other days Crosswordle may give you as many as six rows of words. And the top one or two rows may have no colored boxes at all! When you try to work a six-row Crosswordle you have to plan your vowels carefully. You have to minimize the use of vowels in the lower rows, or you will be unable to make any words for the upper rows.
Consider this: each of your words probably requires one or more AEIOUY vowels. Whatever vowels occur in the last line, the answer, are available in the previous words only in the allowed yellow boxes. Meanwhile, as you go up, adding a word to reach row, you start exhausting all the allowed consonants. By the time you get to the top, hopefully you have saved a vowel that hasn’t been used before, and you can dredge up consonants that you haven’t used that can form a word with that vowel!
I promise you, the above discussion will make a lot more sense after you play Crosswordle a few times.
How To Approach Crosswordle
More so than other Wordle Cousins, every Crosswordle has many solutions, containing completely different words. In fact, once you work the puzzle, you can ask to see solutions obtained by other people. And if you’re like me, some of those solutions will make you slap your forehead and say, “Oh, no! Why didn’t I see that obvious simple solution?”
All of the solutions are equally valid. Which of them are accessible to you the player depend on which choices you make for the colored boxes, and whether you can make words using those choices while still reserving enough unused letters to complete all rows.
My personal approach is to work from the bottom up, trying to plan ahead. Planning ahead means using few vowels and few common consonants in the first few words I enter: I need to save them for later use.
The very first word you enter will be highly constrained by the solution in the last row. So it’s not helpful to have “starting words.” Nor is it useful to have in-between words: as we know from the Wordle blog, there are twelve thousand possible words you can use. There are too many choices to recommend!
However, where I can help you is to suggest “ending words” that will help you fill in the top row or two. I have two sets to offer you:
One Vowel, One Consonant
If you have saved aside a vowel to use and have a severe shortage of unused consonants, this list may help you.
In the SOWPODS list of five-letter words, there are exactly seven that use only one AEIOUY vowel and one consonant:
COCCO ESSES MAMMA NANNA PEEPE SUSUS TAATA
One Vowel, Two Less Common Consonants
What if you have already disqualified each of these words by having used its vowel or its consonant in your previous entries? Then you may find use from words using one vowel and two “less common” consonants. In this context, “less common” means the least common 10 consonants in all five-letter words. Here, there are 14 SOWPODS words to consider:
ABAKA BABKA BOFFO FEEZE GABBA GOBBO JAFFA JEEZE KABAB KEEVE KIBBI QAJAQ WAGGA WEEKE
Using Uncommon Words
Now you may, as I do, shy away from using words that are not part of your everyday vocabulary. And I am not impressed by an empty word list, that is, a list with no definitions. I previously expressed this reluctance in discussing Scrabble (“what is the use of words that have no meaning?“). Empty lists make word games an exercise in rote memory rather than an opportunity to learn and use new words.
Only you can decide whether, for you, dredging out one or more of these unusual words is a legitimate way to play the Crosswordle game. But in case it helps your conscience, I have compiled the definitions of these 21 words in THIS page. Perhaps if you use them and make them “yours” they may come in handy when solving word puzzles without hurting your conscience! By the way, the Crosswordle website allowed all 21 of these words when I tried them.
Using Familiar Words
Here’s another approach to consider.
Forget about the obscure words. When Crosswordle shows you a grid with one or two blank lines, think ahead about known words that you might put there. Consider words with only one vowel, no more than two consonants, and using none of the letters in the answer word. You can do this!
For example, here are some words that I bet you already know, or almost-know. Some of these might qualify as words to set aside, depending on the answer word Crosswordle gives you:
A words: AMASS ANNAL ATTAR CANNA GAMMA KAPPA LLAMA MADAM MAGMA MAMAS MANNA PAPAL PAPAS PZAZZ RADAR SAGAS SALSA SHAHS STATS
E words: BELLE CEDED DEEDS DELED EBBED EGGED EMCEE ENDED EPEES ERRED FEMME GEESE GELEE LEVEE MELEE MEMES PEEPS PEEVE PENNE REFER SEEDS SEEMS SEEPS SEERS SELLS SENSE SEXES TEETH TENET TEPEE TESTS TWEET VERVE
I words: CIVIC IMMIX MIMIC MINIM SILLS VIVID
O words: BOOBS DOGGO HOOCH KOOKS MOTTO NOONS ROTOR SOLOS SOOTS TOOTH TOOTS
U words: FLUFF LULUS MUMUS PUPUS
Y words: SLYLY
Just to clarify, here’s what to do when you see blank rows at the top of the Crosswordle grid: Choose a few of these words that have no letters in common with the answer word at the bottom of the grid and set them aside. Then, as you fill in the words, avoid using letters that are also in your set-aside words. That way, you’ll be free to use the set-aside words for your last one or two entries.
An Aid To Memory
If you are setting aside a word or two for later use, you may as well enter them into the blank rows right away. That way, you’ll know that they are allowed by the game, and they will serve as a reminder. You can always change one or all letters in those words up to the moment that you complete the puzzle.
I encourage you to try Crosswordle, it exercises a whole different part of your forebrain than does Wordle.
Six-Letter Wordle Games Like Meddle
Here’s another of the Wordle Cousins: Meddle, which could be called Medical Wordle. Its answer word is always a term related to medicine or health care.
I haven’t said much about Meddle because its specialized vocabulary may scare you away if you don’t have a healthcare background. However, it’s worth discussing for an important reason: in Meddle, all the words have six letters! Therefore, tips for solving Meddle will also help you whenever you encounter one of the Wordle Cousins built on six-letter words.
I will now report to you my research to find good starting words for Meddle and similar six-letter Wordle cousins.
Letter Frequency in Six-Letter Words
I started by collecting the 22,158 six-letter words in the SOWPODS list.
Since I don’t have the list of Meddle answer words, I used the full SOWPODS list and computed the relative frequency of all letters in six-letter words. Here they are, in order of frequency:
ESARIO NLTDUC MPGHBY KFWVZJ XQ
A keen-eyed reader will note some differences from the letter frequencies quoted in our Wordle blog, but they are minor.
Six Letter Words with Many Vowels
One of the approaches for playing Wordle is to start with a many-vowel word like ADIEU or OURIE. What if you want to take the many-vowel approach to solving a six-letter game like Meddle?
There are no six-letter words containing five different AEIOUY vowels. Sorry!
There are 171 six-letter words containing four different AEIOUY vowels; if you look only for four different AEIOU vowels, there are 87. But since U and Y are less common than the other vowels, what if you just look for words that contain AEIO?
There are 24 such words, too long for a recommendation list. But we can pare down the list by insisting that the two consonants be both among the most common 10 consonants (S R N L T D C M P G). This leads to the following 12 words:
AEONIC ANOMIE ARIOSE CODEIA EIDOLA EOLIAN GOALIE IODATE LEIPOA OPIATE ROADIE SOAPIE
Since the most common consonants are S R N L T, if we insist that the start word has two of these, the only candidates are
If you don’t happen to know these words, here’s a quick definition:
- ARIOSE means “characterized by melody,” as opposed to consisting of words without much melody.
- EOLIAN means “relating to or arising from action of the wind.” It’s also spelled AEOLIAN.
Six-Letter Starting Words
A single starting word doesn’t get us very far when we have six letters to guess. It will usually only give a couple of yellow or green letters. We need additional words to try.
I started searching for follow-up words. If I start with ARIOSE, a good second word is CLUMPY. However I could not find good words for a third or fourth guess, because I had already used R and S. Those letters are needed in many diphthongs, and we need those to explore as many consonants as possible.
I started over with EOLIAN as the first guess and quickly found GYPSUM and REDACT. Together, these three words contain AEIOUY and also the most common 10 consonants in these words, namely SRNLTDCMPG.
A Fourth Six-Letter Guess Word
What about a fourth word? Meddle allows you seven total words, so if your early guesses don’t find many colored boxes, it’s not out of the question to use as many as four words just for exploration.
After the first 10 consonants, the next most common are HBKF. Thus I searched for words that contain at least three of these. There are 16 such words. I narrowed them down as follows:
- The combination HBK appears in more six-letter words than any other three consonants from the group HBKF.
- I selected words that put vowels in positions that have not previously been tested.
- I deleted KIBBEH because its repeated letter misses a chance to test more vowel positions.
- I deleted words ending in A or I since those are less common in the possible answers.
This process left only one candidate, KIBOSH, which means to end or reject something. This word has one additional advantage: it tests the letter S in a position where the previous guesses did not test it.
My conclusion was that if you want to explore all the letters in the answer, the most efficient sequence of guesses I could come up with is:
EOLIAN GYPSUM REDACT KIBOSH
Here’s the total probability of finding new letters at each step:
|w. leftover being 5.25%
That is, if you guess EOLIAN and then GYPSUM, you have a 68% chance of finding yellow and green boxes that identify all of the letters in the answer word!
What If Four Guesses Give You No Consonants At All?
Here’s an unusual situation: What if you make four guesses with the above words, and you find no consonants at all? That is, no consonants appear in yellow or green boxes. Then there are only 20 possible words that could be the answer. Here they are, sorted by how many different AEIOUY vowels you found:
- Four different vowels: EUOUAE EXUVIA FEIJOA QUEAZY ZOUAVE
- Three different vowels: EVOVAE EXEQUY FOVEAE JAYVEE QUAZZY VEEJAY WAFFIE WAXEYE ZOAEAE ZOOEAE
- Two different vowels: FIXIVE VIVIFY VIZZIE
- One different vowel: WEEWEE ZOOZOO
If you’re playing Meddle, the answer has to be related to medicine or healthcare. The only plausible solutions in this list that I see are FIXIVE (=fixative), FOVEAE (retinal focal depressions) and QUEAZY (=queasy, nauseated). To me these three seem somewhat obscure to be likely Meddle solutions. But if you’re playing one of the other Wordle cousins with six-letter-words, you might possibly encounter one of the 20 answer words above.
Don’t Blindly March Forward!
This is a good time to remind ourselves: to think! So don’t just keep entering guesses regardless of what turns up. As soon as you accumulate 3 or 4 yellow and green boxes, you have a good chance to guess the answer word. And the green and yellow boxes you find may inspire you to choose the next word out of sequence (that is, KIBOSH rather than REDACT), or to guess a completely different word that fits all the green and yellow boxes you have.
The Meddle pattern shown above illustrates how this works. I guessed EOLIAN and GYPSUM but I only found P I E, not enough for me to guess an answer. However, just one more word, REDACT, identified all six of the letters in the answer! So then it was just a matter of racking my brain until I rearranged them into a medical kind of word, which was the answer TRICEP.
Other Wordle Cousins: Foodle!
I’ve also been enjoying Foodle so I can’t resist saying a word about it.
Among Wordle cousins, this is a straightforward game except that the answer word has something to do with food. And the high-contrast display is a refreshing visual change.
As you see in the example here, I used one of the three-word sequences suggested in the previous blog. After three guesses I had identified four of the five letters in the answer word, so I tried to guess the word.
My first try, FRESH, failed. However, my bad. Fresh is not the best food-related possibility. After that try, knowing that all the letters had to go “somewhere else,” I correctly guessed the day’s answer, HERBS. This was not a sterling performance on my part, but it shows you a real-life example!
Wordle Cousins are a pleasant addition to your list of “how shall I waste a little time?” or perhaps “how can I exercise my brain to keep it agile?” I hope you get great fun from these three games!
Image Credit: Game screens by Art from the Wordle cousins Crosswordle, Meddle and Foodle, as referenced in the blog above