Wordle players break streaks to support New York Times union walkout


What would it take for you to break your Wordle streak?

On Thursday, the Times Guild, a union representing a variety of employees at the New York Times, staged a one-day walkout as part of a high-profile contract bargaining process in which the union and the newspaper’s management have been unable to come to agreement on issues such as compensation, remote work and health care. The union asked readers to avoid interacting with Times content on that day — including avoiding the Times’ mega-popular word game, Wordle. For Wordle players, skipping a day could mean breaking their winning streak, a sacrifice some were willing to make.

“Read local news. Listen to public radio. Pull out a cookbook. Break your Wordle streak,” the Guild tweeted Wednesday, ahead of the walkout.

The New York Times purchased Wordle from creator Josh Wardle in January for an “undisclosed price in the low seven figures.” Like several of the Times’ other games — including the crossword and word game Spelling Bee — Wordle has a “streak” counter, which tracks how many days in a row players get the correct answer. Missing a day or getting an answer wrong breaks the streak and resets the counter. While this might not seem like a big deal, the psychology behind streaks can make breaking one a difficult pill for players to swallow.

For some, breaking their streak to support the union was an easy choice. Wordle player Chuck Smith, from Toronto, told The Washington Post he broke a 338-day streak. “I feel pretty OK about it,” he wrote in a Twitter DM, “my streak was a (rather pointless) point of pride for me with the friends and family I share results with every morning, but I’m happily in solidarity with the striking workers.”

Wordle player Danny Groner, from New York, told The Post he broke a 51-day streak, a thing he noted doing from “time to time. If I got them all right, all of the time, I would have dropped the game a long time ago for being too easy.”

One player told The Post via Twitter DM that they changed their computer’s clock to do the Wordle early and avoid breaking a 90-day streak.

Wordle is 2022’s top Google search term, above both Ukraine and the queen

Players and labor activists on social media also spoke about sacrificing their streaks to support the union.

“Let your broken streak be a badge of solidarity,” tweeted pop culture critic Matt Baume, posting a picture of his 166-day streak.

“Break your streak. It will be OK,” tweeted the AFL-CIO, America’s largest federation of unions.

Some fans shared Wordle alternatives, and Chris Pitts of Texas even made their own version, Strikle, which, according to Vice, plays the union song “Solidarity Forever” and thanks players for not being “scabs,” labor slang for a person who crosses a picket line, if they get the right answer. (I did not get the right answer.)

Other players weren’t aware of the union’s call to skip the daily puzzle. On the Wordle subreddit, some lamented not knowing about the call sooner. On social media, other players declined to break their streak consciously, with some claiming they didn’t see the point, and others not interested in taking such an action.

A broken or intact Wordle streak can be about more than just some numbers you see every day, or share with your friends on social media. As The Cut explored in 2019, people can become attached to their streaks, and the bigger a streak grows, the more a person might feel they have to lose by breaking it. This can be especially true if the streak is recorded: A June 2022 study in the Journal of Consumer Research noted that people “consider maintaining a logged streak to be a meaningful goal in and of itself.”

We all use phones on the toilet. Just don’t sit more than 10 minutes.

Many video games encourage users to engage with them every day, notes Naomi Clark, chair at the New York University Games Center, which she called “appointment gaming” in an email to The Post. These appointments can feel bigger than just an everyday habit, Clark wrote.

“[W]e want to feel in control of our lives. When something good happens a few times, we want to believe it could keep on going — that it could be a bright fixture in the worryingly dim and hazy landscape of the future … Even if we know a Wordle win after six guesses is no big deal, we’re relieved to know that this part of our lives is still there, still controllable. Our life is going to go on, right? More or less like this? Isn’t it?”

Breaking a streak, therefore, can introduce a lot more uncertainty into our lives than just what to do over our morning coffee. But for Wordle players deliberately breaking their streak in service to a cause they feel is good — or for anyone who missed that last guess on today’s puzzle — a broken streak could also be a good thing.

“Deliberately breaking a streak,” wrote Clark, “ … [is] a conscious act of will, cutting yourself off from the past chain of events. That past is no guarantee of what your next streak will look like, but a broken streak is also a new opportunity, a weight lifted, a moment where you can reaffirm your dedication to your practice by throwing yourself back into it … or take a break!”

Mourn your streak a little, if you need to. Then, embrace the chaos of the unknown.

Leave a Reply