You’ve probably already seen a lot of green, yellow, and gray squares from Wordle players on Twitter/X and Facebook, but get ready to see a lot more of a different kind of box.
Since it went into beta last month, Connections has become more and more popular with players. Now, the New York Times is making it a full-fledged puzzle game. The head of games at the Times, Jonathan Knight, says that the game will get better merging with other titles and new ways to play in “weeks, not months.” Right now, you can only play it on the web.
Knight told Fast Company, “The way we work is that we want to make a lot of games quickly, get them out there, and see if people like them without putting too much money into that early stage.” “As soon as we see results, we do the extra work to add it to our tech stack. I can say for sure that we have agreed to do that with Connections. It’s going to be added to our list of long-term games.”
If you haven’t played Connections Game before, here’s how it works. A group of 16 words is changed every day. Your job is to find four sets of four that all have the same thing in common. Some are simple. For example, it would probably be easy for you to see how Einstein, Feynman, Hawking, and Oppenheimer are all connected. But some are meant to trick you because the words could seem to belong in more than one group. For example, would you quickly guess that Handlebar, Horseshoe, Pencil, and Walrus were also types of mustaches?
Knight says that the game is “our most editorially driven game since Spelling Bee,” which is another NYT game where players have to make words out of a set of letters.
Connections has been a part of the Times for a long time, even though it’s just now getting a lot of attention. The company thought about making a word association game as early as 2021, and the idea for the game as it is now came from an internal “game jam” that year. But when Wordle was bought in January 2022 for “low-seven figures,” it was a “all-hands-on-deck” event that put Connections on hold.
Once Wordle was running well and the group got back to making their own games, the NYT Games team started to clear its pipeline. They put both Connections and Digits, a math-based game, into test release.
Connections, well, linked with players. Digits, on the other hand, found a small group of fans but hasn’t been as successful.
Knight says, “We have certain goals for success.” “We look at what people do. We use measurements. We can tell if something will have the level of interest and return rates that will make it a long-lasting puzzle that can add to our business and wealth. I would say that Connections meets or exceeds these measures of success. Digits has a lot of fans, but we didn’t quite reach that goal. Math might scare away a lot of people.”
The game is free for now and will stay that way, but the goal of Connections, like that of all NYT material, is to sell membership. Even free games like Wordle help the Times grow its digital business by getting users’ email addresses, which can then be used to market to them again in the future. Also, puzzle fans can get access to the library of daily games for $5 a month or $40 a year. People who already subscribe to the magazine can also add the games library to their account.
The Times doesn’t say how many people play, but Knight says Connections is the company’s most popular internal launch since Spelling Bee, which came out in the New York Times Magazine in 2014 and went online in 2018.
Why is it so popular? Well, it’s like Wordle in that it’s hard to stop doing. And the idea is simple enough that people can figure out how to play quickly. But he thinks that the human management of the game is the real draw. Players might not know Wyna Liu’s name, but there is still a connection with her because she is the author of the Connections game.
Knight says, “When a puzzle is driven by an editor in that way, there’s almost a two-player relationship between the solver and the builder.” “And you know that every day, a real person is trying to trick you. So, you go back and try to beat the builder. This game is really, really good at doing that.”