There’s an art and a science to picking a good starting word when you play Wordle. One computer analysis suggested that CRANE is the best starter; another landed on SALET. Recently the New York Times did its own analysis of the words people actually choose as their starters, and the situation is dire: ADIEU is the most popular starter, yet (allegedly) the least efficient.

That’s not to say it’s the worst word you could play first, but it is the worst out of the 30 most popular starters—ADIEU, STARE, SLATE, AUDIO, and RAISE. But if you rank the top 30 starters based on how effective they are at revealing letters in any given puzzle, the top five are SLATE, CRANE, LEAST, STARE, and RAISE, with ADIEU landing at number 30. (My personal favorite, ARISE, ranks seventh.)

Should a Wordle starter have a lot of vowels?

I’m going to teach the controversy here. The argument in favor of ADIEU is that it contains four vowels, and you know the solution will have to contain at least one vowels. Thus, knocking out four of them in your first guess is pretty smart. (O and sometimes-vowel Y are the only ones not included.)

But there’s an argument to be made that vowels don’t give you much information, in the data-science sense of narrowing down possibilities. Most words in English remain perfectly legible with all the vowels eliminated, and because every word contains them, you’ll still have a lot of options on the table. Here’s what I mean: If you play ADIEU and A lights up in yellow, yes, you know that there’s an A in the solution somewhere. But that tells you very little about what the solution actually is!

Another strategy is to go with a consonant-heavy word at first, and worry about the vowels later. According to one local Wordle expert(‘s wife), “there are only five [vowels], and it’s almost never going to be a U.”

Your starter should mesh with your solving style

Scientific analysis aside, I don’t think there’s much point to picking the theoretically best starter word; you need to find your best starter word. The human brain does not narrow down the problem space in the same way as a computer. I like when I find vowels early, because having the vowels helps me sound out the words in my head. If I know there are vowels in the second and fourth places (say, _A_E_) I know it is probably a two-syllable word. I run through the available letters, trying them out in each position in my head. For me, a vowel-heavy starter is helpful. For you, it might not be.

When choosing a starter, consider the way you think through the possibilities when you’re halfway through the puzzle. What starters will set you up for success with your preferred solving style? If your brain works best when you know the initial letters of the word, maybe choose a starter like TRASH, which gets a lot of common beginning consonants into the mix right away.

My own approach splits the difference: I think about my starters as a pair. With ARISE and TOUCH, I get intel on all five vowels and five of the most common consonants. If you play ADIEU, I think you need to be prepared to follow it up with THORN. 

Don’t forget about Y, the sometimes vowel

Should you include Y in your starter? Most of us don’t, but there’s a good argument to be made for getting it in the mix fairly early in the game.

Y flies under the radar since it’s an end-of-the-alphabet letter. The tendency is to think it must be as rare as X and Z. But Y is fairly common (worth 4 points in Scrabble to X’s 8 and Z’s 10), showing up in words like FUNNY and JAZZY (JAZZY being the hardest word that appeared as a Wordle answer this year). Words that end in Y also often have a double letter—like the N and Z in those examples—so make sure to consider that as you’re narrowing down the possibilities.

You may recall from grade school that the vowels are “A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y.” (You may even have learned “…and sometimes Y and W.”) That’s because Y really can stand on its own as a vowel. The ending Y in FUNNY is an example: U is the vowel for the first syllable, and Y is the vowel for the second. There are also words that contain a Y as their only vowel, like GLYPH, NYMPH, and TRYST.

So if you’re working through a Wordle and you don’t seem to have enough vowels to make a word, stick a Y in a guess somewhere—preferably at the end. LANKY or HORNY might be good picks for when you’re stumped.