Friends don’t excitedly text me their black, yellow, and green Wordle clusters anymore. They no longer boast about how quickly they completed the daily word puzzle game, nor do they complain about how the New York Times totally rigged it after buying it from its creator, Josh Wardle. For the most part, Wordle has joined the ranks of crosswords and Words With Friends as a glorified hangman, a word game you play when you remember to, just with a few less stars in your eyes.
Unless, however, you are a word game devotee like me, in which case you not only continue to play Wordle daily with monk-like discipline, but all the buckets of “games like Wordle” aren’t enough to quench your aching word-game thirst. That’s not a problem—Josh Wardle himself just recently recommended the game Knotwords, which was created by developers Zach Gage and Jack Schlesinger and released on April 28. From one word freak to another, let me tell you, it’s a lovely and artful experience.
Or maybe I’m just stupid, which is also possible. If you’re playing for free (the full version of the game, which you can buy for $4.99 a year or a one-time purchase of $11.99, adds puzzles, hints, your personal stats, and color themes), some summer breeze-y Muzak fuels you as you choose between your two options: daily classic and beginning your 30-puzzle-strong monthly puzzle book.
But all Knotwords puzzles use the same basic gameplay. You can think of it kind of like a one-person Scrabble game—each puzzle is made up of multiple intersecting anagrams, and you need to arrange each anagram so that the whole board is legible. In the tutorial, for example, you need to rearrange the letters in two connecting, jumbled fragments, OW and RD, so that they end up arranged as WORD.
The daily classic, naturally, is something you can only play once a day, and it offers a more succinct version of the word maps you’d find in the monthly puzzle category. Some puzzles in the monthly dump also have broad themes like “adjectives” and “uncommon words,” though I felt that puzzle answers were fairly similar across all free Knotwords boards.
That isn’t to say, however, that I wasn’t charmed by them. I even maybe, possibly, sort of happily struggled with them a little.
I embarrassingly had to use one of my limited hints, which regenerate monthly, for the May 2 daily puzzle, which ultimately took me 47 minutes to complete. Please stop making fun of me, I just could not process the word [redacted]. And in any case, the frustration I felt was the satisfying, push-your-tiny-head-to-the-limit sort of frustration you actually want puzzle games to sprinkle you with.
But you don’t need to shave off part of your busy schedule to play Knotwords, either. Most of the free monthly puzzles took me around one to five minutes to complete, and I could see myself returning to these throughout the day for a hit of English language serotonin. Similar to Wordle, how often you’re able to detangle a Knotwords arrangement is determined by how sweet your brain is being and how much you like solving benign problems.
Like I mentioned, you can play Knotwords for free, but the full version is available as a subscription or a one-time purchase. Paying for Knotwords gets you a few perks, like access to its archive and personalized stats, but it most excitingly upgrades you to hard mode through twist puzzles and “tricky” monthly puzzles.
I thought the twist puzzle option was particularly delightful—it’s a board that represents how many vowels are in a section with numbers. So, if there are two vowels in a five-letter column, this will be represented with a “2” at the start of the column. Each time you place a vowel in that column, the number of vowels will deplete until it gets to zero. Your goal is to get all the vowel numbers to zero by using the correct number of vowels while creating valid words.
Premium Knotwords also let me change my word bank color to a Starburst pink, which was much appreciated, as was the white cartoon rabbit that pops up on the bottom of your screen and mutters excitedly when you win. Though that guy is available for free, too.
So you won’t miss out on the most pleasurable or crucial aspects of Knotwords if you only play for free, but the more personal and more difficult paid version could be motivating for the hardcore word puzzlers among us. But no matter if you’re a word game expert or a newbie looking for a stimulating daily game, I think you’ll enjoy the simple cleverness of a little Knotwords. Just don’t tell me you spent less than 47 minutes on your daily puzzle.