I once worked at a small-town newspaper, part of a micro-chain of four publications. There was one young guy who oversaw "IT" for all four sites, and he occasionally tried to impose IT-like rules, like making us change our publication software passwords every few weeks. Did "password1234" protect our ink-stained souls, whereas "password123" would have meant doom? Who can say?
I chafed at this occasional performative security. In a fit of pique, I decided my rotating password scheme would be the IT manager's license plate, followed by whatever I had for lunch that day. I thought myself quite clever, even if, a few months later, I forgot I had typed in "turkeyhoagie" instead of "turkeysub" earlier that new-password day, and I had to call said IT manager for a reset. I have no idea if he saw my password before he provided the replacement. I still felt clever, even in defeat.
"Clever, yet defeated" came rushing back to me as I marched through The Password Game, a web-based text box of tears from Neal Agarwal. The game has been trending its way through social media since its official release yesterday, and understandably so. We only get so many of these "Pure enjoyment on the web" moments each year, so I recommend you avail yourself of it as soon as you can.
You'll grasp the theme and genre immediately, as you've been playing it for years. You'll see "Please choose a password," a text box, and then rules. Your password must be at least five characters. It must include a number, an uppercase letter, and a special character. But the digits in the password must add up to 25. And now you have to include a month of the year. And then way more.
If you were wondering when this would become a real game, here's the moment. I'm loath to spoil too much because some people will most enjoy the sense that there is some malevolent spirit inside the HTML input box, constantly tightening the screws on your skills and patience. You'll have to wield math, Roman numerals, emoji, Geoguessr, chess, and—that's it, no more hints.
You should go play it. I got past the chess question, then I had to stop and write this, and I may or may not have been glad for the break.
I dashed off a few questions to Agarwal, creator of The Password Game and many more intriguing web games.
Ars: Were you inspired by previous password requirements, or did this game format just occur to you?
Agarwal: This idea has been brewing in my head for a while, but I think the final straw was when a password box told me my password was too long. Like apparently it’s possible for a password to be too secure?
Ars: How challenging was the backend of this game? Is this a RegEx thesis project?
Agarwal: This game is a mess of RegEx, and I’m surprised it works at all. I had a bug where the phase of the moon messed up a completely unrelated rule. It also slowly morphed into a full-blown text editor with different fonts and the ability to bold/italicize, which made everything way more complicated. On the plus side, I think I kinda understand RegEx now. (Ed. note: Agarwal added a text :) smile after this, and it's important to recognize the potential irony of that.)
Ars: Do you feel bad about making people ask their friends for today's Wordle answer?
Agarwal: Honestly, I think every game should start by making you do today's Wordle.
Listing image by Neal.fun