In the last two weeks, guessing a five-letter word each day has made me cope through the strike period.
While the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has embarked on a one-month general striking action— a bid to register their dissatisfaction with the current government administration— I am inventing new ways to keep my mind from losing the threads gathering the bits together. Reading fiction has felt tougher than expected. I can no longer swiftly escape into well-imagined terrains. For so long, I had immersed myself in Anatomy and several other medical college textbooks that I could no longer read a chapter from Eduardo Agualusa’s A General Theory of Oblivion without the deep bite of guilt and an impending failure blooming in my chest. Seeing even a full episode of Euphoria has felt like a sin. And sleeping longer than four hours in a full day has suddenly become a luxury I can no longer afford.
Against the directives of the academic union, classes, somehow, are still being held, and tentative examination dates are announced. I can no longer tell if this is a less draining period than before the strike was announced on February 14th. There is no difference between the strike period and when the school was active.
This will be the second strike I am experiencing in my three years at the university and my second year of study. I approached the first with an exasperation so complete and righteous; I just want to “do my time” and be gone, why was the government trying to sabotage my well-arranged plan? I had thought in foolish hope that I’d experience my years hitch-free, without strikes or unnecessary quenches in the flow of my studies. But then COVID happened. Then the strike. While the first may have felt torture-like, this second strike, to me, was a prayer answered. A necessary halt.
When my friends started sharing abstract green, yellow horizontally placed tiles across social media stories, I thought quietly to myself: what silly trend has overtaken the world of social media again? We seem to be living in the age of those now; not a day goes by without the outbreak of a new one. And people do not get tired of hopping on them. Everybody is looking for an escape, so it made absolute sense, even though I felt a bit slighted by a part of it. I asked. They called it “Wordle.”
When I, too, started sharing abstract green and yellow horizontally placed tiles across social media stories, I thought: how cool this thing is! I think everybody should be playing this game. And so I introduced a friend. And another. Then another. It became sort of a ritual, playing it together. And not too slowly, I watched myself swept up in the haze of wordle-rs across the world wide web. Finally, something I could do to pass time without being assuaged by guilt.
Each morning or in the late afternoons, I am staring furiously into my phone screen. A five-letter word. What word is it? Come on, come on. Think.
(B-R-E-A-K. OH, NOT BREAK? THERE’S AN ‘E’. SEE! AN ‘A’ IN THE WRONG POSITION. MUST BE SLATE, THEN? S-L-A-T-E. OH, THERE’S NO ‘S’? FOR GOD’S SAKE!!)
For the most part, playing this game, I am frustrated with all the mental gymnastics. A good kind of frustration. What is the point of suffering myself to do this? But this is sweet suffering, so I keep playing, keep thinking. A five-letter word in six guesses.
According to Wikipedia, Wordle is a web-based word game developed by Josh Wardle. Players have six attempts to guess a five-letter word, with feedback given for each guess in the form of colored tiles indicating when letters match or occupy the correct position. “Wordle is a single-player puzzle that combines elements of several games, including Scrabble and Battleship. In an article on Very Well Mind, Wordle challenges your brain, fosters community, and even provides a daily hit of dopamine triggered by a sense of personal achievement.” What this widely played word game does is test “the vocabulary and patience of people from all walks of the internet at a time that has been challenging for many.”
Since its inception barely four months ago, the free online daily word game has reportedly amassed millions of players. Its simplicity, most of all other features, is enthralling. All you need do is to pick a five-letter word for a start, any word. If any letter per grid turns green, they’re correct. Yellow means the letter is in the word but the wrong spot. Grey means the letter is not a part of the word. There are no hints. No cheats.
Created for his partner, Palak Shah, Josh Wardle released the game to the public in October. On 1 November, only 90 people had played it. Within two months that number had grown to 300,000, and it keeps rising.
In a widely shared clip on WhatsApp, an interviewer asks a student what she thinks of the ongoing strike action by university lecturers. She is joyed the strike is finally happening. She has a business, and in her words: “School is preventing me from doing things that I want to do.” Her response does not jar me, rather it captures the mind of several Nigerian university students. This is a sad reality, but it is the only one that we know and have to live with. The paucity in the standard of tertiary education in Nigeria is not a discussion new to any. In a different clime, young people are fighting against blockades to be able to get an education. In Nigeria, however, young students are shuffling one foot in school and another outside of it, if given the chance would abandon the institution entirely for a “better” prospect – money.
As expected, some students slandered the girl in the viral clip, called her “unserious.” Fair enough. But when you’re confined in an overcrowded cell for a long period, at some point you will need to catch your breath. Several Nigerian students are trying to catch their breaths. No matter how stale the air is. We need a break before the backbreaking work resumes. Not for me though. The backbreaking work is with me. I needed the strike to have time to calm my nerves and try catching up with the lecturers flying at breakneck speed. I need more time, and by that, I selfishly mean an extension of the strike, because I do not want to fail, and most importantly because I do not want to come out into the world half-baked, incompetent, and unable to come to par with the standard beyond the country.
It will never make sense to me why Nigerian universities put so much pressure on their students, rush them into graduation, into a hungry and harsh economic climate, completely unprepared and bereft of tools with which they can pave pathways for themselves. It’s appalling.
I have moved on from playing the original game to playing several imitations of it. Like Worldle, where random country maps are projected and you can guess in six trials which country the map belongs to, a pointer at the side of each guess indicates the distance of your guess to the correct answer.
Does playing the word-guessing game make me smarter? I wish so. But researchers have suggested that neither does being able to guess the words in minimal trials mean you are smarter, nor does it protect your brain from aging. I don’t play Wordle because I want to get smarter. I do because it’s become weirdly my coping mechanism. There’s this thin line existing between the ton of school work I have to read (seriously or arbitrarily) and insanity. And, this might be a reach, the satisfaction after each Wordle game is keeping that edge from tipping.