Pop Culture and Media

Forget Bill Gates’ strategy: This is the best Wordle starting word according to MIT researchers

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Sorry Bill Gates, but AUDIO isn't the best word to start with when you're playing Wordle.

A pair of MIT researchers recently set out to find the optimal starting word for the popular online puzzle, discovering that the statistically superior first guess is SALET, which is a 15th century helmet.

The peer-reviewed paper, titled "An Exact and Interpretable Solution to Wordle", puts an end to the ongoing debate over what five-letter word constitutes the best opening move in the game.

"If you play SALET and you play intelligently you can assuredly win the game within five guesses," researcher and MIT Ph.D. student Alex Paskov tells CNBC Make It. "You don't even need that last guess."

At MIT we have a lot of resources ... we weren't too afraid to face this bigger, more difficult task of exhaustively enumerating every possibility.
Alex Paskov
MIT Ph.D. student

While WordleBot — an AI from Wordle owner New York Times which analyzes your strategy — recommends SLATE, CRANE, SLANT, CRATE and CARTE as the strongest openings, Paskov says the issue is that analysis wasn't done using MIT's computational capabilities.

"What the New York Times actually did to determine CRANE is they focused on a small subset of possibilities that they can solve on a basic computer," he said. "But at MIT, we have a lot of resources, we have very fast computers, very big supercomputers. So we weren't too afraid to face this bigger, more difficult task of exhaustively enumerating every possibility."

Paskov and professor Dimitris Bertsimas' approach was "much more computationally scary", he explains, laying out all possible guesses each turn and using an AI system to analyze it from there.

"If you can imagine a web of all possibilities that can happen in the game, what guesses you can make and what happens after those guesses and so on, that is an unimaginably large set of possibilities," he said. "So to determine how to best play the game, our system starts cutting away very intelligently and aggressively at this web until at the end of the day, you're left with just the best thing to do in every situation."

The reason SALET is a more optimal guess than fan favorites like ADIEU and AUDIO is because, on average, it helps narrow down the possible answers in Wordle's word bank the fastest. On average, the algorithm solved Wordle's puzzles in 3.421 guesses when starting with SALET.

"If you can think of it in an abstract way, this word gives you the most possible information as a first guess," Paskov says. "At the end of the day, what that means is that you will win the game in fewer average guesses than AUDIO."

Indeed, even though the WordleBot-recommended SLATE has the same letters as SALET, the latter performed 1% better in Paskov's testing.

For those curious to see SALET in action, Paskov and Bertsimas created a website where players can tell the AI which tiles their first guess uncovered and have the algorithm give them the statistically strongest words to guess next.

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