How do you spell ‘controversy’? According to Wordle, ‘F-E-T-U-S’

Wordle game on a smartphone
The popular online game Wordle gives a player six tries to guess the mystery word correctly.
(Alexi Rosenfeld / Getty Images)

The New York Times moved swiftly to change Monday’s answer to its daily Wordle puzzle out of fear that it would be seen as some sort of commentary on the debate over abortion rights.

The game, which became a sensation late last year and was bought by the newspaper in January, gives users six tries to guess a different five-letter word each day.

Yet the paper scrambled when it discovered that Monday’s word, which had been entered into Wordle’s computer program last year, was “fetus.”


The timing was particularly fraught given the recent leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision that would strike down Roe vs. Wade, the 49-year-old ruling that established the right of women to receive abortions.

The appearance of “fetus” was “entirely unintentional and a coincidence,” the newspaper said in a message to readers Monday.

“At New York Times Games, we take our role seriously as a place to entertain and escape, and we want Wordle to remain distinct from the news,” the message said.

What makes the game Wordle special is its social energy. Its shareable grids connect us, giving us a window into another person’s mental process.

Jan. 21, 2022

The company changed Monday’s answer to a different word, and a spokesman said that the “vast majority” of users saw that one. But some people who had not refreshed their browsers saw “fetus” instead, spokesman Jordan Cohen said.

He would not say whether the paper had received any complaints about “fetus.”

Wordle was invented by Josh Wardle, a Brooklyn software engineer, as a gift for his partner and took off when he began posting it online. Players guess words and home in on the correct answer as the game tells them if their guesses contain letters in the word of the day.

The New York Times bought his invention for more than $1 million and is revamping the technology to make sure every user sees the same word every day, the newspaper said. Cohen said millions of people play Wordle each day.