Plenty has been written about the joys of Wordle, including quite a few articles like this one and this one discussing the best starting words.
These tend to be good but not great for a few reasons:
- They usually start by looking at letter frequency in the English language. But Wordle words aren’t entirely typical (for example, they only have five letters and don’t normally include plural nouns).
- They often suggest a starting word which hits the top letters, without accounting for the higher value of green letters (the right letter in the right position).
- Sometimes they get 1 and 2 right but then come up with obscure starting words like ‘soare’, which tick all the boxes but will never be a ‘direct hit’ (see below). And surely we all want the thrill of knowing our starting word might one day ‘hit the jackpot’?
So let’s have a crack at finding the absolute best Wordle tactics, using hard data. The complete list of past and future Wordle words is in the public domain, so using that as the basis (along with some programming skills) will give definitive answers. (You can take a look here if you like, but be warned the list reveals future words.)
For those 2,135 actual Wordle words, here’s the letter frequency (with the top 5 and top 10 highlighted):
But that’s not good enough, because it doesn’t account for green ‘direct hit’ letters, which are clearly more valuable. What happens if we re-run the scoring and ranking script, but with some added weighting for green hits? Counting greens as 50% more valuable reveals STARE as the top single starting word, followed by RAISE then ARISE. (Increasing the weighting so that greens score double still leaves STARE on top.)
Best starting pair of words
We’re not quite there yet, because the best tactic is normally to enter an opening pair of words to gather information, before starting guessing in earnest. If STARE is the first word, then LOGIN gets the best second word weighted score. But is STARE / LOGIN really the best opening pair? There’s a G in there, and that’s only the 16th most frequent letter. Because STARE eats up so many of the ‘best’ letters, it reduces the second word options.
Running the weighted scoring script one more time, to test opening pairs overall, reveals that the highest-scoring opening pair is SLATE / IRONY, which hits the perfect mix of common letters in common positions. SLATE is only the 8th best standalone starting word, but in combination with IRONY it makes the strongest opening pair. Letter Y isn’t quite top 10 overall, but it’s the 2nd most common final letter (after E) so the green weighting carries it.
So there you have it: using words which will in future provide the joy of a jackpot direct hit, and giving extra weighting to green hits, the opening combo of SLATE / IRONY will give you the absolute best hit rate against the real list of future Wordle words (on average, in the long run). Hopefully that knowledge will help us all avoid that sinking feeling of ‘getting it in 7’ (as a friend recently put it).