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“FAITH” for the five-letter win

Religious variants of WORDLE are cool, but they may not last long

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“FAITH” for the five-letter win
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Matthew Barnum was just looking for an icebreaker to put on the board for his easily distractible Sunday school class of preteens when one Sunday in March he drew five squares on the board.

The kids immediately knew what this was and jumped in.

It didn’t take long for Barnum, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and a software engineer for Amazon, to jump on the Wordle bandwagon himself and create religious variants of the popular five-letter daily word guessing game. His first, a Wordle clone based off of an LDS devotional, now gets 16,000 unique visits a day. So Barnum decided to create a second for the broader religious community.

Launched last week, Christian Wordle joins the already-crowded pool of Wordle variants, with other Christian clones already among them. Besides his Christian Wordle, which uses keywords from inspirational verses, there’s also Versle, a Bible chapter-and-verse guessing variant created by app and software developer Tobey Osborne, and Biblidle, a clunky keyword clone launched just this week by an unnamed creator. There are overseas Christian equivalents like Kungdle, a Hong Kong–based variant created by Jonathan Yip for his local Anglican community.

Creators of these Wordle variants said they created the games on a whim—they bought the website on the cheap, found the open source code, put the site up in days, and told everyone on social media.

But ever since The New York Times bought Wordle back in February, there may be limits to how far a variant can go.

Last month, the Times ordered a Wordle archive to be shut down. Apple in turn has deleted Wordle copycats from its app store. And since U.S. Patent and Trademark Office records show the Times applied for a trademark for Wordle on Feb. 1, tech news site Ars Technica says this means the Times could go after any games using the name Wordle or even -dle in its title. That would include just about every Wordle variant out there right now, including Christian Wordle and Versle.

Still, while the Times may have cornered the Wordle name and trademark style, it will be harder to stop games that have merely imitated Wordle’s addictive five-letter guessing concept. As Barnum’s five squares on his Sunday school board proved, the game is so simple it’s hard to patent. Wordle itself isn’t exactly the first of its kind (a 1955 pen and paper game named Jotto predates it), and even the name Wordle isn’t original—remember word clouds? There was a time in the early 2000s when wordle referred to those fun computer-generated displays depicting words in different orientations and sized to their relative significance.

The group became a place where we could offer our prayers and support.

Barnum admitted he hadn’t considered the potential trademark issues that naming his game Christian Wordle might involve until his aunt mentioned it. “I really was just doing it for fun,” he said. “I just like seeing my work grow and turning people toward Christ.”

Osborne said similarly about Versle, which he said has seen a 50-percent increase each week since its launch Feb. 14, “With the momentum around Wordle, it seemed like a great opportunity to create a place to bring a fun twist to learning Scripture.”

Hong Kong Anglican pastor Amos Poon, who started playing Kungdle in January, says the game in English helps him “learn more new words of Chris­tianity” and is “a very good way to connect different people in the Christian community.”

“It’s like a fun, daily, Bible memorization test,” says Michael Fredericks, a pastor in Nova Scotia who plays Versle. “I’m very good at guessing the book and the general vicinity of the passage within the book but [Versle] helps me better memorize the chapter and verse.”

Fredericks says he recently ran a Wordle tournament on Facebook with 40 friends, where each would play and compare scores from Wordle and four variants.

While running the tournament, he said, the group bonded. “One of our ‘Wordlers’ had to have emergency surgery during the tournament. Another got engaged, and another one lost her husband unexpectedly,” said Fredericks over email. “The group became a place where we could offer our prayers and support and gave those who were dealing with difficult situations a little healthy distraction every day.”

That camaraderie may outlive his friends’ interest in Wordle, which Fredericks says is already waning. People started dropping out of his Wordle tournament halfway through March, and he admits it can become a time waster, especially if you’ve committed to playing six Wordle variants a day.

“I think it’s already running out of steam,” he said. “Like most internet things, it’s probably short-lived.”

Juliana Chan Erikson

Juliana is a correspondent and a member of WORLD's investigative unit, the Caleb Team. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Juliana resides in the Washington, D.C., metro area with her husband and 3 children.


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