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Illustration by Drew Shannon

I am done with overused four-letter words, like “Zoom.” I’m all about five-letter words. By now you must have heard about Wordle. The five-letter word puzzle has spread almost as fast as the five letters we have been trying to overcome for two years: “COVID.” Wordle is viral. It’s spread from my friend to me, and within days, to my entire family. Wordle is lifting many of us up right now. I’ve come to A-D-O-R-E it.

When the Pilates studio where I work as an instructor closed again, my Pilates pal got me into Wordle. She tells me Wordle is her evening treat. For another friend who is a caregiver to her unwell, elderly mother, Wordle is pure sweetness. She asks me if she is a geek because she waits to play Wordle at the end of a hard day, a glass of wine in hand. No, I tell her. Like with exercise, Wordle is therapeutic. It cleanses the mind of troublesome thoughts. Of course, wine also helps.

The day after I share this new Wordle “thing” with my family I start to get mysterious e-mails from my elderly parents. They are blank, much like how the Wordle puzzle begins.

For me, Wordle is also a winter diet of sorts. I’ve always had a huge appetite for words, and lately, I’ve been playing endless hours of online Scrabble. Wordle is one-word-a-day, it’s a healthy word game habit. Wordle is portion control for word addicts like me and my Pilates pal. We also Wordle and exercise together online. Sometimes we do a loathsome exercise she calls “the beast.” One morning as we take on “the beast,” I point out that “beast” is also a five-letter word. And just like that, we’re talking Wordle strategy and “the Beast” has been slain.

Another day. Another Wordle. More blank e-mails from my parents who share an e-mail address. But which of my over 85-year-old parents is the sender and why? I call my big brother, who I’ll refer to as Dr. Word since he has a PhD in linguistics. Dr. Word should be able to fill in the blanks, and/or get a great Wordle score. He answers without saying hello. He is clearly having difficulty with five-letter words today. “I got Wordle in six guesses.” Poor guy (six kinda sucks). He tells me his wife, whose second language is English, won in three. He also says that my game-addicted-smack-talkin’ 15-year-old nephew has decided to “geek out” with us old farts who play a game that doesn’t even have an APP or allow you to use the five-letter word “farts” as a guess (reasons unknown).

“I’M KING OF WORDLE … A DUB ON MY FIRST TRY! NO CAP!!”

My nephew just sent me the above text. He often educates me on how young people communicate today. Thanks to him I know that “NO CAP” means “No lie” or “truth” but “DUB” has me scratching my head. I call Dr. Word again. He still has not cracked a Wordle in four tries, but he does know that “dub” is a short form for “win.” It comes from the world of sports where a win is denoted by a “W” but is pronounced “double u” and then it was shortened to “Dub.” Dr. Word has also spoken to the elders of our tribe. It seems that our Dad has joined the Wordle elite with a three-guess try. DUB!

My husband is the only one in the family who isn’t caught up in the whirl of Wordle. I try to entice him to join the fun and his firm reply is, “I do not follow the lemmings over the cliff!”

The next day, after deliberating about the latest Wordle, Dr. Word and I discuss the case of the mysterious blank e-mails. They have continued and are now slightly less blank. Each blank e-mail now appears with a URL for the Wordle U.K. website.

My parents came to Canada from England many moons ago. My 90-year-old father plays his Wordle with a cuppa Red Rose tea in hand. After completing a perplexing Wordle I wanted to discuss the results with him. He is a man of many opinions and I was certain he would have much more to say about the day’s confounding Wordle than simply sending the website’s URL.

In fact, Wordle was not my father’s biggest beef of the day. It was a tennis ace in the news he refers to as a “cocky blighter.” His next aversion was the Wordle of the day: the American spelling of “favor.”

“Why would a British-born creator of a word game that originates from a British website use improper American English?” he wonders. He went on to say that my equally British mother was not even slightly troubled by Wordle’s use of Americanized English and guessed correctly in three attempts! You see, Mom has always been more flexible, and I have never heard her call anyone a “cocky blighter.”

In a word game where you have six chances to guess correctly, the choice of the first word (and especially the vowels within) is key to the process of elimination. Mom has refused to divulge her first-word choice. Not even to me, her only daughter. Hackers, lurkers and thieves be warned: You will not have any of my mother’s secrets, scores or strategies served upon a silver platter! But I wonder, are these blank e-mails a deliberate tactic or is the score sharing feature of the website my mother’s biggest Wordle hurdle?

I pick up the phone:

“Mom, I am calling to help you share your Wordle scores.”

“But”… long pause …”I have been sharing my Wordle scores!”

Then I tell her she is in fact, shooting blanks.

“Well ... that is MY social-media strategy!!!” she laughs.

Perhaps we’ll never know Mom and Dad’s Wordle scores. But one thing we do know is that we are a cryptic bunch at the best of times, and enjoy each other and share our Wordle at the worst of times.

Joanna Webb lives in Toronto.

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