My Wordle Mamas text group, which formed during the depths of a pandemic winter in Minnesota, is still going strong. Very strong.
But that once-a-day game, in which players have six attempts to guess a five-letter word, is not the main event anymore. We use this text thread to share our results on various other word games that we play on our phones.
There's Quordle, which is four Wordle-like puzzles at once, as well as Octordle, which is obviously eight puzzles at once and is definitely not a waste of time.
We're not alone in this daily diversion. We all cackled when we learned that Matt Damon refuses to let longtime pal Ben Affleck into his Wordle group, which includes Bradley Cooper, Jason Bateman and Will Arnett. Apparently, Affleck is not an elite enough geek to make it past the velvet ropes of this exclusive club, known to its members as the "Nerdle League."
Damon explained on "The Kelly Clarkson Show" earlier this year that the group plays Wordle, Quordle and Octordle and tallies up their scores. The lowest score wins.
Affleck needs to get his scores down before he can prove himself worthy to the group, Damon suggested. "It's very, very competitive," he said.
But the latest obsession among my friends and me is the new puzzle from the New York Times called Connections.
Anyone who loves wordplay, simple trivia, modern colloquialisms and seeing the hidden relationships of things will adore this game. Once a day, Connections puzzle master Wyna Liu presents a grid of 16 words. Players must categorize them into four buckets of four. But watch out, because some words fall into multiple categories.
Gonzo, Piggy, Animal and Beaker are all obviously Muppets, right? Your first instinct may be to lump them together. But wait — Scooter (another Muppet character) is also a choice. And so are Motorcycle, Truck, Car and Bus. Does Scooter belong with the Muppets or with the modes of transportation?
Patience, my friend. Your brain needs to leap a few steps ahead and map out multiple categories to make sure the puzzle can be solved cleanly. There is only one answer.
Connections, which is the Times' second-most-played game after Wordle, debuted on the publication's Games app in late August. The Times considers Connections its most successful launch of any game developed in-house since the Mini Crossword was introduced in 2014.
In a column, Liu explained that when creating the board games for Connections, she reflected on puzzles she found as a kid while poring over Games magazine. She "discovered that a picture of a telephone could be matched with a diamond ring, a visual pun on the sound a phone makes, and a bursting balloon could be paired with a soda can, since both go 'POP!'" she wrote. "Thinking about these puzzles reminded me of how meaning can be communicated succinctly, and I was inspired by their playfulness and use of free association."
I tried to enlist my husband to play Connections with me, but ever the stanchion of self-discipline, he said he didn't want to waste more time on his phone. (Somehow Wordle was not the gateway drug for him that it was for me.)
But I have come to justify my online puzzle time with the latest research. A recent study found that older adults (70 and above) who exercised their brains with literary and active mental activities, such as using a computer, playing games and doing crosswords or other puzzles, were associated with a lower risk of developing dementia over a decade. The link remained strong even after researchers adjusted for differences in education and socioeconomic status.
Surprisingly, frequent participation in social activities was not associated with a reduction in dementia risk, according to the study, published in July in the American Medical Association journal JAMA Network Open.
So, I am running with these findings (and ignoring other research linking dementia risks to hours of sitting on the couch). When I play word puzzles, I tell myself, I am stimulating my brain, growing neural pathways and flexing my working memory. The ability to share with my text group infuses the games with some healthy competition.
What do Coffee, Wordle, Connections and Texting My Girlfriends all have in common?
My morning sedentary habits, all backed by pure science.