The NYT Spelling Bee has been around since 2014 in print and since 2018 online. The rules are pretty simple: each day offers seven letters arranged in a honeycomb pattern (honeycomb, spelled BEE, someone on the Times design team got wind of it).
Players must form words of four or more letters using the given letters and must always include the center letter. There is always one pangram, meaning a word that uses all seven letters and counts as big points. The game reminds me of my favorite childhood game, Boggle, without the little letter dice and the fun-to-shake game board, but with all the settings and scoring done for me.
As you find words, the puzzle praises you with compliments like “genius” or “amazing” and moves your score up a small row, giving you higher ranks as you progress. If you find all possible words, you will be rewarded with the title of “Queen Bee”. Or so I hear. I haven’t done it yet.
Can I play Spelling Bee for free?
Note that while Wordle is free on the New York Times site —— The New York Times Spelling Bee is more complicated. Stay with me here.
People who don’t subscribe to any form of the New York Times, print or digital, can play up to the “Solid” rank, a Times spokesperson told me in an email, noting that it could be a different word count each day, depending from the puzzle.
If you get the print version of the Times, you have access to play the Spelling Bee every day. If you have a digital subscription, it depends on the pricing tier you pay. Games, including Spelling Bee, are not included in the cheapest subscription, the basic level. But the next level up, All-Access, includes NYT Games. These levels are explained here.
You can also choose to purchase a NYT Games subscription, which costs $40 per year or $1.25 per week, paid monthly. The newspaper is smart enough to know that some people just want its iconic crossword and other word games, including the Spelling Bee, and so it allows people to pay to do just that. You also have access to puzzle archives and a a whole bunch of other extras for the game with this deal.
Want to play through an app? The Times Games app (called simply The New York Times Crossword) on iOS and Android is free to download for anyone, but only Home Delivery, All-Access and NYT Games subscribers have full access to everything the app has to offer, the spokesperson told me.
New York Times Spelling Bee Tips, Tricks, and Strategies
, has some tips and strategies for playing the New York Times Spelling Bee. Here’s my best advice.
- Look for prefixes and suffixes
So you made up a word — say “happy.” You’ll be even happier if you can turn that keyword into a bunch more. If you have the right letters, use a prefix like “unhappy” or a suffix like “happy.” There are also levels of happiness, such as “happiest” or “happier.” There’s no reason not to squeeze as much juice out of a word as possible.
2. Endings -ING and -ED
If you ever see the letters ING or ED in your everyday spelling, you’re golden. Maybe you found a word like “test” as in “The New York Times Spelling Bee is real test of my patience.” You can dress this up with “testing” or “tested.”
3. Share the load with a friend
CNET’s Connie Guglielmo. She plays the Spelling Bee with her husband. One of them starts the game and finds as many words as possible. The Genius level requires 68 points, so one person gets to 34, then the other player takes over. Once they reach Genius level, everyone can chip in with more words in their quest to reach Queen Bee level. “In 18 months of playing, we only got the Queen Bee twice!” she says.
4. Memorize this pangram
The puzzle promises that there is always a pangram – a word using all seven letters provided. Just knowing that word is there sometimes makes me see the possibilities. I’ll keep rearranging the letters to see if I’m inspired to find that magic word. Not that it can be longer than seven letters if you reuse a letter or two. And once you have it, check if there are any smaller words (at least four letters anyway) hidden in that long word.
5. Check previous games for odd words
You can go back and look at the previous day’s game – and you should. As Guglielmo notes, over time you’ll learn that words are included that you might never have thought of, such as “ratatatat.” CNET’s Dan Avery, a frequent gamer, notes that just as with crosswords, some relatively obscure words come up again and again, like “acai” and “acacia.”
6. Press this shuffle button frequently
Spelling Bee has a super simplistic layout. Below the letters of the day is a button to delete letters from your guess and a button to enter or submit your guess. Between these buttons is an unlabeled shuffle button. This doesn’t give you new letters, but it rearranges the batch for the day. Use this button often. Getting different letters next to each other helps you start to see obvious words you missed, Guglielmo points out.
7. Remember to reuse letters
Just like in Wordle, letters can be used more than once. As you study the honeycomb of letters, think about which ones are often doubled in words (EE, RR, LL) and see if you can do that here.
8. Strategies for centering letters
Ouch, that damn capital letter. It should be present in every word you make, and many times I’ve thought I had a great answer only to have my word rejected because I forgot the center letter. If you have a word rejected for this reason, consider whether that word can be used in a compound word that can include the central letter.
9. Strange plurals
The puzzles never include the letter S because then almost any word the players find can be made plural. But you can be on the lookout for plurals of non-S words like “teeth” and “children.”
10. More tips from the Times
The New York Times asked some of its dedicated Spelling Bee players to share their secrets and publish the results. Their story points to online fan sites and forums, as well as relevant Twitter hashtags, all of which can be used to get daily help with the game.
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