Nearly cheating

Last week I solved Wordle in a single guess. My go-to first guess, IRATE, finally came in after months (over a year, I think) of use. So what do I do now? Seems like a good time to switch my starting guess.

Before we go any further, I should mention, for those of you who don’t commit every utterance of mine to memory and are thinking “There was no IRATE last week,” that I don’t play the NY Times version of Wordle. Back in early 2022, right after the Times bought Wordle, I downloaded the original version and set it up on a server I control. That’s the game my family and I have been playing ever since. Overall, I’d say this was unnecessary. The Times hasn’t screwed up the game the way I thought it would,1 but it’s too late now for us to change.

Based on letter frequency tables, I figured ALTER would be a good new initial guess. But because I was so delighted when IRATE came up, I’d like to choose a word that

  1. Is among the list of 2315 words that are answers.
  2. Hasn’t been an answer already.

And I want to see if ALTER passes these two tests without spoiling myself with other answers, especially those that may be coming up soon.

I have the data to do this if I’m careful. In order to build my wordle script, I needed to pull out all the answers and acceptable guesses from the original Wordle JavaScript source code. I was able to do this nearly blind—I saw just the first and last couple of words in each list and have long since forgotten them—and save them to three files: guesses.txt, answers.txt, and wordle.txt, the last of which is a blending of the two others.

Some simple shell commands got me what I wanted. First, the simple part:

grep alter answers.txt

returned alter, which confirmed my belief that ALTER is an answer and didn’t reveal any other answers. Checking whether it had already been an answer was only a little trickier.

The answers.txt file has the answer words in chronological order, one per line. To figure out where I currently am in that list, I got the line number of yesterday’s word, DWELT.

grep -n dwelt answers.txt

The -n option causes the line number of the found text to be printed along with the text:


With this information, I can now see if ALTER has already been the answer:

head -n 878 answers.txt | grep alter

The head command outputs just the first 878 lines of answers.txt and the grep command looks for alter in that text. It returned nothing, so ALTER has not been an answer so far. It passes my test and will be my first guess from now on.

What I like about this solution is that I was run my test quickly without seeing any other answer words and without tipping myself off to when ALTER will appear, which I could have easily done with

grep -n alter answers.txt

I recognize that some of you will read this and think I’ve crossed the line of Wordle ethics into outright cheating. You can keep your opinions to yourself.

  1. Although I recall some outrage about a year ago when FEAST was the too-on-the-nose word for Thanksgiving Day.