Every morning at 7:30 sharp, Loyola junior Catherine Mudd plays The New York Times mini crossword.
“It’s devastating when I wake up too late and I can’t do it,” Mudd, 20, said. “My mornings are pretty tight since I have to get to class.”
She said she likes the game because it’s challenging in a different way from classes. And since it’s not as competitive as other problem-solving games, like Wordle, she said she can play it whenever and however she wants.
Weekday mini crosswords typically run in five-by-five grids with simpler clues and answers than their normal-sized counterparts. Weekend minis are larger, typically in seven-by-seven grids. The daily minis are free on The New York Times app.
Mudd found out about the mini crosswords through Loyola’s New York Times subscription. She said she thinks the game is more popular with younger people because of different generations’ news reading habits. She pointed out the different generations’ newspaper readership as an explanation for the game’s popularity with younger people.
“Old people, they read the newspaper, and I read The New York Times on my phone,” Mudd said.
She isn’t alone in this morning ritual.
Whether student or teacher, young or old, casual player or superfan, The New York Times gaming complex has made its presence known at Loyola.
The latest addition to the company’s game lineup is Wordle. The purchase, reportedly for a low seven-figure sum, made headlines in January.
Users play Wordle by guessing a five-letter word within six tries. Correct letters in the wrong order flash yellow, letters correctly placed flash green and letters that don’t appear at all stay a disappointing dark gray.
Hundreds of thousands of people play Wordle every day, according to The New York Times. So far, it’s spawned hundreds of spin-offs. Some of the most popular include Nerdle, for math equations; Worldle, for geography; and Quordle, for four words at a time.
Millennials and Gen Z dominate Wordle’s audience, according to a Morning Consult poll.
Mudd said she thinks the generational gap in gameplay varies from person to person.
“My mock trial coach was like, ‘Wordle? What kind of newfangled thing are the kids these days doing?’” Mudd said. “And once we explained it, he was like, ‘Oh, okay, that’s kind of dumb, but alright.’”
But other professors feel differently — Mudd said another of her professors plays Wordle and encouraged her class to play it.
Communications professor Jessica Brown said crosswords never really clicked for her until Wordle.
“I probably tried crosswords 10 or 15 years ago, and I always felt like, ‘These are shows my mother might’ve watched,’” Brown said. “It’s all about who the content creators are.”
For Wordle, “these are just words,” she said. “But if I don’t get these words, I’m going to feel bad about myself — which is terrible. And that’s what makes you engage.”
Brown said she thinks Wordle benefits from both the isolation and the anxiety of the pandemic.
“It can be a nice, quick getaway from a hard day if you just want to take five minutes and not think about anything too hard,” Brown said. “For me, it was being able to play it on my own but still find the community.”
She copared today’s social media trends to those of the early days of quarantine.
“Whether it was baking bread or cheering for healthcare workers… things that people started to do en masse, regularly, I think that was probably the last thing we all started doing,” Brown said.
Brown said she likes Wordle for the community it’s cultivated on social media.
“It’s bringing people joy,” Brown said. “And that’s kind of awesome, especially in the times we live in.”
The same Morning Consult poll revealed 43% of Americans said they found Wordle through social media. After playing for the day, users can copy a link to post their scores on social media and compare streaks with friends or followers. By March, Google searches for “Wordle” skyrocketed up to twelve times more than searches for “crossword.”
But Wordle isn’t just a Twitter phenomenon. Sophomore Sophia Stamov heard about the game through her friends and TikTok.
“They would text the emojis, which I wouldn’t understand,” Stamov, 20, said. “They wouldn’t post on social media but they would put it in group chats.”
First-year Sara Ali said she started playing Wordle before The New York Times deal and hopes it stays free. Ali, 18, said she also played word searches and Sudoku when she was younger.
“I was always good at this stuff,” Ali said. “I would not stop until I got the answer.”
And despite her love for problem-solving games, she said she still felt the judgment of older generations.
“I’d expect millennials and older generations being surprised that we play it,” Ali said. “I think their expectations of us are kind of low and it’s weird. Like, word searches were literally my life.”