The viral word game Wordle has been bought by the New York Times Company for a sum the publisher says “in the low seven figures”.
NYT bought Wordle from its creator, Josh Wardle, a New York software engineer who made it as a gift for his girlfriend.
The Times, which paywalls its crossword, said the game would initially remain free to new and existing players - "initially" being the operative word.
Wordle was created as a no-charge, ad-free website in October, and had 90 users on November 1. That grew to 300,000 by the middle of that month, and now more than three million play the game daily - taking up to six goes to guess a five-letter word.
Buzzfeed credited a clutch of Kiwis for helping turn the word game into a viral phenomenon on social media, including Auckland man Paul Brislen, Andrew Chen (best known as a Covid commentator and venture capitalist) and a government adviser known only by her Twitter handle, Elizabeth S, who hit on the mechanism - soon officially adopted by Wardle - of using coloured squares to share a result without revealing the letters.
That feature enables users to share their performance, with rows of five bricks indicating how close they were to guessing the correct word. For the uninitiated: a green brick indicates that the letter is correct and in the exact location; a yellow brick indicates that the letter appears in the word but in a different place; and a gray or black brick indicates that the letter does not appear anywhere in the word.
The analogue brick layouts have been endlessly memed and have driven millions of tweets.
Some have been of marginal quality.
The Times, which put up a paywall in 2011, recently reported 8.4m subscribers - 7.6m of whom were digital. It says the Wordle purchase is part of its drive to reach 10m subs by 2025.
The Times this month spent US$550 million ($835m) to buy the sports news and podcast website The Athletic and its 1.2m paying subscribers.
Although Wardle created Wordle as a no-charge ad-free web-based game, a number of knock-offs soon appeared on on the App Store, which did try to part users with their money.