A case of mistaken “application identity” led to a major donation benefiting a West Oakland tutoring and mentoring nonprofit.
How it happened ? Through the gaming obsession of word nerds and two software developers who lived in Oakland and had a thing for charity.
The game in question is wordle, the five-letter guessing game that millions of people play every day. Created by former Reddit engineer Josh Wardle, the puzzle is an international sensation that led to the creation of copiersthousands of memesweird unaffiliated clothesand just this month, a six-digit number redemption from the New York Times. Before being hosted on the Times website, it was on another website with a slightly obscure URL.
The word-of-mouth nature of the game’s popularity, however, has led to millions of confused people seeking it out in smartphone app stores. There they found a different game called Wordle!, which was first released in 2016 and is similar in gameplay to Wardle’s Wordle game, but with in-game ads and boosters. Definitely the second Wordle! has been downloaded millions of times, culminating this week as Apple’s App Store’s Best Word Game.
Made by a high schooler named Steven Cravotta, Wordle! was downloaded around 100,000 times in four months in 2016 before plummeting in the app rankings. Cravotta stopped promoting it and moved on to college at Pepperdine University where he studied marketing. He’s largely forgotten about the game, but last January Cravotta saw his app earn thousands of new downloads.
“I had no idea where [my gameâs] popularity was coming. Then I did a Google search and articles about Josh’s game came up. At that point, I knew people were definitely confused,â he told The Oaklandside.
Cravotta received windfall royalties on what grew to over 10 million downloads.
Instead of continuing in a battle to claim the “Wordle” name, Cravotta and Wardle connected on Twitter and, in a charitable twist, Cravotta decided to donate a portion of his earnings to a nonprofit on which they could get along.
“I said to Josh ‘Your app improves mine in the rankings and gives me a ton of downloads. Let’s do something cool here and donate the money to a non-profit organization focused on literacy because our two games are puns and that fits the theme,â Cravotta said.
They agreed on To strenghten! West Oakland, a popular after-school program that Wardle’s partner Palak Shah used to volunteer as a tutor. Both Wardle and Shah lived in Oakland in the late 2010s before moving to Brooklyn, and Shah, according to his LinkedIn page, worked as a strategic consultant for nonprofits in Oakland, focusing on the improved student results.
In a presentation at the West Oakland Library on Thursday, a smiling Cravotta gave a $50,000 check to Ty-Licia Hooker for the nonprofit. Hooker, a former Oakland teacher at Garfield Elementary, told The Oaklandside it’s a “transformational” amount of money that will help the nonprofit grow by bringing in a new staff member to recruit new tutors. The money will also be used to buy school supplies, including canvases and pencils, as well as food for the students, who usually stay at the center until 7:30 p.m.
Build something fun that stimulates the mind
Cravotta said the last month of his life had been crazy and he was happy to donate some of the money he earned to a program that helps children through tutoring in literacy and science .
“We thought the organization was small enough that the money had a real impact,” said Cravotta, who flew to Oakland from Southern California to deliver the check. In an Instagram post, he called it one of the best days of his life.
Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Cravotta created his version of Wordle to practice coding after learning through YouTube videos.
“I saw The social network movie about how Mark Zuckerberg built Facebook, and I was like, ‘Okay, that’s the coolest thing ever.’ I want to learn how to code and build websites and build apps and stuff,â he said.
Since graduating in 2020 Cravotta has worked in affiliate marketing and in his spare time created another app, this one to help people quit vaping called Number of puffs. He became addicted to vaping in college and found it was taking over his life in a negative way.
“My ultimate goal in life is to use the skills I learned to improve people’s lives,” he said.
At the same time that Cravotta was tending to all of his new users, Josh Wardle was across the country in Brooklyn deep in a much bigger maelstrom of popularity. In mid-January, 14% of Americans played his Wordle game every day.
The success surprised Wardle as he had never intended to make money from it or become famous. It was just something, he said The New York Timesthat his partner Shah could play with him during the long and boring months of the pandemic, in addition to trying to solve the latest New York Times crossword.
The philosophy of doing something for fun, for fun and as an intellectual challenge, resonated with Boost’s tutors! West Oakland, for whom playing Wardle’s Wordle with the kids has become part of their routine, Hooker said.
âFor young students, the game is a bit tough. But the mentors play the game at the start of the sessions, and it’s a fun literacy game,â she said.
Hooker also said that since the news came out they were going to make money, tutors and students were enthusiastically playing both games.
To strenghten! West Oakland is celebrating 25 years of helping kids improve their academic skills, and the big check worked like a sweet birthday present.
First started by Joan and Howard Poulter in 1997 as a free tutoring program for underserved children called the Lafayette School Mentoring Project, Boost! is known for its emphasis on tutor-student relationships. It combines the expertise of professional adults with children who need to improve their skills in a related field. For example, a professional writer can help children who need to improve their writing, or an engineer can build the confidence of young people who are struggling with math or science.
The program works, Hooker told The Oaklandside, thanks to one-on-one tutoring.
âThe reality is that many students who are behind in school need an education tailored to them. Children are not getting the attention they need and deserve,â he said. she said, “A lot of schools give parents homework to help them, but they don’t know how to teach it. And if the students are missing a concept, it’s important that they feel comfortable enough.” to be vulnerable and tell someone they don’t know and can you teach me that again.”
Hooker told The Oaklandside that the current education situation for Oakland public school students is particularly difficult. After two years of the pandemic, she said teachers are noticing that many students have not progressed academically, and some are falling behind where they started.
âMany 5th graders in 2020 who are now in 7th grade are still at 5th grade level. Or maybe academically at an even lower level,â she said.
To strenghten! was on vacation for a few months during the pandemic, but Hooker says it will start again next week with 20 tutors helping 25 students. She hopes more locals will take an interest in becoming tutors so that the program can offer twice as many tutors to children for the 2022-2023 school year. Currently, 60 elementary students from nearby Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School are eligible to take Boost after school! tutoring course. For the next eight weeks, all one-to-one lessons will take place over Zoom due to COVID-19 transmission issues.
Besides school work, Boost also offers children the opportunity to broaden their cultural horizons. Many tutors take their students on field trips to museums and other places. In fact, the connection that develops between pairs over time may be the most magical and important part of the whole program.
Shah actually started tutoring an Oakland sophomore nine years ago. According to Hooker, the couple continued to work together through elementary school and even beyond the time she left the program. Now 17 and in Grade 11 at a local high school, the student stayed in touch with Shah, leading to what Hooker said was one of the most important relationships of their lives.
Hooker said that while not all tutor-student relationships last as long as this pair, the impact tutors can have is immeasurable.
âAt the heart of learning are relationships. We don’t see tutoring in isolation from mentoring. You don’t start tutoring by pulling out a backpack and working on a math problem right away. We start by connecting with the hopes of the student and opening up space for dialogue at a grassroots level,â she said.