Oliver: Word games, computer or otherwise, can help keep our brains engaged

When some of my Facebook friends started posting what looked to be a strange pattern of squares on their news feeds, I was intrigued.

These blocks were five squares wide and six squares deep. They were colored in with yellow, green or gray. Sometimes they would be blue, orange and gray. Above the block would be a phrase: “Wordle 242 3/6.”

Needless to say, I was intrigued.

I’ve been on social media long enough to know that my friends sometimes post cryptic things as part of fundraisers and inside jokes. There was one where a lot of my female friends were posting strange things and it turned out to be for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I’d scour the comments below these strange blocks to see if I could figure out what was going on. Then I broke down and looked up “Wordle”: Turns out, it’s a word game.

Now I was really interested, since people were saying that it didn’t take too long to do and wasn’t too involved.

Word game? Let me at it.

It’s quite simple. Yet, it does take a little bit of brain power to figure out the puzzle.

You start by putting in a five-letter word. There’s probably some strategy as to the first word, but I like to be random about it.

You quickly find out whether any of the letters in your word sync up with the word of the day. If a letter is in the correct spot, it turns green. If a letter is in the word but it’s not in the right spot, it turns yellow. Incorrect letters turn gray.

Then you put in another five-letter word using the yellow and green letters and other letters that you haven’t tried yet.

You have six tries to get to the correct word. So far, I’ve never been able to get to the correct word in fewer than three tries. Most of the time, I get it on the fourth try. I’m also happy to say I’ve never failed to get to the right word in six tries.

There’s also a “hard mode,” where the colors on the grid are orange, blue and gray. I haven’t tried that yet.

Turns out, Wordle has gone viral, as so many things seem to do these days. I realized how big it was when it wound up making the news. Of course, there now are similar games sprouting up.

Word games, such as Wordle, allow me to challenge my brain without overwhelming it. I think that’s why I’ve always been fond of doing crossword puzzles.

These days I have a couple of apps on my phone that also help me solve puzzles and keep my brain engaged. Studies have shown that engaging one’s brain can help to reduce the chances of developing dementia, something that my mother developed in her later years.

When I was doing newspaper design work for our copy desk, I also found spatial concept games, like Tetris, helped in fitting stories onto pages.

I still like those sorts of games, so I’ve found one that combines the spatial concepts of Tetris with those of Sudoku. The only problem is that I tend to play it and play it. The next thing I know, I’ve lost track of time and too much has passed.

That’s also why I’m thankful that Wordle has one puzzle per day. The apps on my phone have a daily challenge, and once I’ve done them, I can go on to the rest of my day.

That’s also the pattern I’ve used for years in trying to learn Spanish and to build on the base of knowledge I already have. The app I’ve been using lets me set a daily target and allows me to learn at my own pace.

I suppose if I devoted more time to it, I’d be fluent by now. However, the point of it is not the end result, but the journey itself.

It’s one more game to keep my brain sharp. And some days I can use all the help I can get.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.