The New York Times removes third-party Wordle Archive

Stylized illustration of a hypothetical puzzle video game.

Wordle Archive – a website that allows users to browse hundreds of previous five-letter daily pages wordle puzzles – removed at the request of wordle owner of the New York Times.

The archive site, which offered a retrospective playback feature that is not available in the official NYT version of wordle, had been rising since early January. But it was taken down last week and replaced with a message that read: ‘Unfortunately, The New York Times has requested that the Wordle archives be deleted. A Twitter search shows dozens of Wordle Archive daily players who were ready to share their results on social media until March 7.

“The use was unauthorized and we were in contact with them,” a representative for The New York Times said in response to a request for comment from Ars Technica. “We don’t plan to comment beyond that.”

The Wordle Archive is still fully playable in its own archived form (as of March 5) on the Internet Archive, appropriately. Other sites that let you play archived wordle the puzzles are not hard to find, nor are the sites that allow you to play unlimited wordle puzzles beyond the usual one-day limit.

But some of those sites could be under threat, if the Times’ treatment of the Wordle Archive is any indication.

Are some clones safe?

The Basic Five-Letter Guessing Game Underlying wordle is not in itself a completely original idea. The concept was widely popularized by Jargon, a game show that dates back to the 80s in the United States and other countries. The two-player paper-and-pencil game Jottowhich dates back to 1955, would also be very familiar to wordle players. Before that, a more traditional version of the game called Bulls and Cows had been played since the 19th century, according to at least one source.

Even if this prior art did not exist, however, The New York Times would have a hard time claiming copyright protection based on design of wordle. While wordleis specific presentation may be copyrightable, the game’s core guessing mechanism is difficult to protect with anything other than a patent (which would be exceptionally difficult to acquire, in this case).

“Whenever you have a copyright, you’re protecting the expression, not the idea,” Dallas attorney Mark Methenitis told Ars. “It’s a line that a lot of people struggle with, especially when you come into matches.”

The Times’ interest in wordle is less ambiguous when it comes to the trademark, which protects the game’s name and trademark. The New York Times has filed an application wordle trademarked on February 1, the day after the newspaper announced its seven-figure purchase of the game from original creator Josh Wardle.

This means the company can sue any other product that uses the wordle name directly, especially if there is a substantial risk that an average user might mistake it for an official Times product. Many other web games capitalizing on the wordle name are out there, as well as spin-offs like Crossword which incorporate the wordle trademark.

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A game like Crossword could be the subject of a trademark claim wordle owner of the New York Times.

Other games that use the “-dle” suffix to connote large wordle similarities—to the Windle, NerdleWhere World– are not completely clear either. The Tetris Company has filed trademark lawsuits against games whose names are only similar to the original Tetris. And that’s not to mention the games that copy Tetris‘ gameplay and outright presentation, showing that there is a level of direct game cloning that a court won’t tolerate.

In January, prior to the NYT acquisition, Apple served a number of wordle iOS app store clones after these clones received negative attention from social media. Section 4.1 of the iOS App Store Guidelines specifically calls out “copycats”, directly telling developers to “come up with your own ideas. We know you have them, so bring yours to life. Don’t just copy the latest popular app on the App Store or make minor changes to another app’s name or UI and pass it off as your own.” But these restrictions did not necessarily apply directly to wordlewhich exists as a web game and not as a native iOS app.

While wordle remains free to play and separate from The Times Popular Games subscription plan, the company has not committed to the game’s long-term status. “We have not established any plans for the future of the game” , a Times spokesperson told Ars. “We are focused on continuing to create wordle a great daily puzzle.”