NYT Strands Is the Latest Must-Play Daily Online Game: Here’s How to Win

I thought I could just ignore Strands, The New York Times’ new online game. But a friend of mine kept posting her scores on Facebook, showing charts dotted with blue and yellow circles, and light bulbs, a real switch from the green, black and yellow squares of Wordle. I was intrigued.

Did I need another daily online game addiction? No, I did not. But did I get one? Yes, yes indeed, I did.

(Note: There’s a spoiler for the May 8 game at the very bottom of this post. Consider yourself warned.)

Read more: Here’s today’s Connections answer

How to play NYT Strands

To play Strands, first you need to find it. It’s only in beta, so it doesn’t yet show up in The New York Times’ Games app. You need to go¬†directly to the game. And because it’s in beta, meaning it’s still being tested, it might be improved before it’s fully released.

Read more: Here’s today’s Wordle answer

There’s a theme

Once you’re there, you’ll see a very brief phrase that’s labeled as “Today’s Theme” for the puzzle. You’re looking for words hidden in the word-search grid that all relate to that theme.

It’s a word find, with a twist

If you see a word, click on the first letter and drag your mouse to each of the following letters, in order. You can move in any direction, just so long as the letters are directly next to each other and you move from one to the next in their proper order. Or you can just click on each letter in the order they’re in the word. You have to click the last letter twice so the game knows you’re done — I forget this all the time. Each word must be four letters or more.

Your goal: Find the theme words

If you find a theme word, it’ll light up in blue. You can also find words that aren’t related to the theme and the game will give you one credit toward a hint. Find three such words and click the Hint button, and the puzzle shows you the letters for one of the theme words. It won’t show them in order though — you still have to unscramble them. There’s generally six or seven theme words, but the number seems to vary, I guess because different lengths of words are used each day to fit the theme and fill in the entire letter grid.

Spangram explains the theme

There’s a special theme word called a “spangram” hidden in the puzzle. It spans the entire puzzle, though it could be across, or top to bottom, and it describes the puzzle’s theme. Get that word, and it will light up yellow.

Read more: Wordle cheat sheet ranking the most-popular letters used in English words

Use these tips to win

I’m always amazed that Strands manages to use every single letter in the puzzle, plus provide enough small words for me to get all the hints I need. Here are the tips I’ve picked up from playing the game.

Tip No. 1: Use the theme

The themes of the puzzles are pretty general, and sometimes jokey, but don’t ignore them. They’re a free clue to the spangram, and if you find that first, you’ll find the theme words easily. So if the theme was something like “Relish the thought,” the puzzle-makers might be using “relish” to mean the food, and the spangram could be “condiments.”

Tip No. 2: Shoot for the spangram

It’s easy to find short words in the puzzle, but swing for the fences and look for the spangram first. It touches two opposite sides of the board, and sometimes it’s a two-word phrase. Take your time and stare at the puzzle for a while, or even come back to it after a break from your screen. That might help you find answers.

Tip No. 3: Use your hints well

You can treat Strands like any word-search puzzle and just look for hidden words that match the theme. But if you’re like me, you’re going to want to get hints. As long as the word is four letters or more, it counts. You can also reuse a hint word if you can add an ending to it, like an S (in other words, if there’s an S touching the last letter, or a longer ending, like ES, that moves out from the last letter).

Tip No. 4: Hints are valuable

If you find three non-theme words, you can click on the Hint button and the letters for one of the theme words will light up on the board. Yet sometimes I still struggle to unscramble the letters. You could use an online anagram solver to see what words can be made from those letters. But there’s another way: Once you have an active hint on the board, meaning the letters are lit up, just not in order, find enough words to earn another hint. Because you’ve already got that active hint on the board, your new hint will reveal the actual word by highlighting each letter in order.

May 8 NYT Strands answers explained

Here comes a spoiler for the Wednesday, May 8, Strands game, so stop reading now if you don’t want to see it. Because we have to talk about this, Strands players.

The theme for the day was “Can you digit?” which is a play on the May 7 theme, “Can you dig it?” That puzzle was all heavy metals, including common words such as gold and silver, and ones that I swear I’ve never heard of in my life: bismuth and antimony.

But the May 8 Strands game played off numbers, as in “digits.” So the Spangram was “numbers,” but then, just check out the other words:

WHOLE
BINARY
SERIAL
TELEPHONE
LUCKY
DANCE
BACON

Sure, the first five work out, if you put them before “number.” Whole number, binary number, serial number, telephone number, lucky number. But the last two? It took me a while to make the connections between “dance” and “number,” as in “she performed a nifty dance number,” but eventually that made sense.

But I confess, I had to Google “bacon number,” thinking maybe different cuts of bacon were… numbered? And then I realized the game was referring to the “six degrees of separation” Kevin Bacon game, where you see how many steps it takes to connect a person to Kevin Bacon, via people he knows or has appeared with in movies. OK, sure, but come on, that’s a reach! Bacon number?¬†

Oh, and I guess my Bacon number is two, since I once met Kyra Sedgwick, Bacon’s wife, on the set of her show The Closer.

Thanks a lot, Strands, for bacon my heart with that one.


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