How am I spending early middle age? Playing Phrazle – and other mesmerising word games | Zoe Williams

The problem with Wordle isn’t that some people use it to show off to strangers or that it’s especially time-consuming, or even that it’s a bit of a waste of brain, but the minuscule feeling of emptiness once you have done it. All that thrill of the chase collapsed into the meagre satisfaction of arriving at something you’re not even sure is a word, like “caulk”. That is how I got hooked on Quordle – a four-word grid – just to delay the inevitable anticlimax. I cycled through Heardle (guessing a song, way too hard) and Worldle (guessing a country, in which I was mainly hamstrung by not being able to instinctively tell east from west). I had just enough discipline to avoid Octordle, in which you have 13 guesses to reach eight words. Then I discovered Phrazle, in which you have to find a whole phrase. I’ll just have one quick go, I thought. I definitely won’t commit.

This enterprise is just daft. The world is absolutely rammed with phrases. I had one easy win – “Beware the Ides of March” on the first try – and then I was hooked. Now I can lose a sizeable proportion of my mental energy for the entire day, getting to “until the cows come home”. It doesn’t even mean anything! The whole experience is one of aching meaninglessness, chasing some combination of words that are either platitudes, demonstrably untrue, or long ways to say a thing that could be shorter. There’s no skill in it at all that I can make out. It’s not unusual for the phrase to contain so many weird combinations of letters that you have gone down a rabbit hole of whether there are any well-known axioms pertaining to the Balearic islands, before you finally land on “my birthday suit”. I can’t even bear to time how long it takes me, this daily three-act theatre of puzzling. “Word games” was not the addiction I expected so incredibly early in middle age. And the post-victory flatness, the diminishing dopamine returns, are still exactly the same – I’m just taking a more scenic route.

Anyway, I pass this on mainly to get everyone else to try it. A problem shared is a problem halved (both a platitude and demonstrably untrue).

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