I was one of the zillions transfixed by the Wordle phenomenon. Not just on the five-letter-word guessing game, but all the clones. Every morning, I would sweat over choosing the perfect words in order to maintain my Wordle streak — which I held for a year, thank you — then launch directly into Dordle, Quordle, Octordle, and a few of the non-word games that ripped off the premise (though I never got into Worldle — haven’t done enough traveling). I followed Wordle to the New York Times after the million-dollar acquisition and felt highly competitive even after the “PARER” incident of September 2022, but like many, fell off the Wordle train pretty hard when I broke my streak on a word I refuse to remember. Please don’t make me dredge up those memories; I am only human.
While I am a semi-regular New York Times Crossword filler-outer, nothing in the media brand’s gaming portfolio has commanded my attention since my year of Wordle. That is, until this summer, when I decided to make Connections my personality.
The daily Connections game offers players a grid of 16 words. The mission: Suss out the common threads between four different sets of words without FUUUUUCKIN’ UUUUUUP. The grouping logic can be all over the place, with connections ranging from simple (“they’re all animals, dummy”) to murky (“synonyms for farting”) to sneakier wordplay (“countries when the letter ‘a’ is added”). Each puzzle offers four levels of difficulty — yellow, green, blue, and purple — and only four misses. As with Wordle, there are no points or prizes, just bragging rights. Unlike Wordle, there is no win tally or streak counter, so if you miss a day, you don’t have to consider moving out of town never to show your face again.
Connections hasn’t become a viral sensation like Wordle, perhaps because it’s just a dash snobbier, landing somewhere between the guessing game’s accessible “I know words” on-ramp and the elitist Crossword. What I love about it are the detectable fingerprints of what I assume are its many writers. Written by Wyna Liu and edited by Joel Fagliano, there’s a deep level of quirk to the choices, with authors regularly pulling fast moves to throw players off the trail. This couldn’t be automated like Wordle. Does “Jet” fit into a group of “types of aircrafts” or “shades of black”? “Cricket” may look like a sport, but it actually belongs with “Whale” and “Puppet” under “Pinocchio figures.”
The strategy, if there is one, is to stare deeply into the word grid muttering the options out loud until you realize what wicked game that day’s writer is playing with you. The joy of the experience is to see the layers of meaning we’ve given to everyday words beyond mere definition. Don’t you dare look at the hints page, which the New York Times just started offering to keep people coming back even if they’re gnashing their teeth over one day’s puzzle.
As New York Times CEO Meredith Kopit Levien recently told our pals at The Verge, gaming is an essential part of the media company’s business. Much like Microsoft or Netflix or even McDonald’s, the Times considers gaming a major play for attention. The aim is a trickle-down effect: You can play Connections, read about the world at war, and find a chicken recipe all in the same place. While the world of AAA games is in a state of flux, so is the mobile gaming sphere — all of these enormous companies hope they can do a little better than Clash Royale.
I’m not sure I’ll convince the rest of the Polygon staff to put Connections on our GOTY list, but today, it deserves a place. The best kind of brain-teaser, it’s just challenging enough to jump-start a coffee-less morning brain and delivers more personality than the robotic daily Wordle. “Sly,” “Colorful,” “Considered,” “Quick” — four words to describe Connections.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Connections ran without creator attribution. A byline on the front page indicates that it is edited by Wyna Liu. The article has been updated to reflect that.