Saltong, the Tagalog Wordle, Wants to Be Your Free and Happy Hobby

We caught up with its creator, Carl de Guia.
Photo/s: Contribution/Robert James de Roque

When popular host Bianca Gonzales tweeted about Saltong, the Philippines' answer to the viral word game Wordle one lazy Sunday, its creator, Carl de Guia, realized that what started as a project to help friends sick with COVID ride out their quarantine is now a happy pastime for tens of thousands of Tagalog speakers.

De Guia, a software engineer who loves word games, wants to keep Saltong going free of charge. He set up an online tip jar to help cover the website hosting costs for Saltong users -- 200,000 per day and counting.

Saltong, like Wordle, is five-letter puzzle with just one released per day to keep users guessing and racing to post their progress on social media. Saltong is combination of the Tagalog words "salita" (word) and "bugtong" (riddle). At the start, De Guia sent the puzzle to friends who like him were recovering from COVID.

"I just want everyone to experience the game without any distractions,"  told reportr. 

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De Guia, 26, launched Saltong on his private Twitter account on Jan. 14. At that time, only 50 people knew about the game. Two days later, he saw verified accounts, like actress Bela Padilla's, tweeting the now familiar gray, orange, and green blocks. 

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"Nung Sunday din na 'yun nung ginawa ko, parang may verified accounts na nag-tweet, like sina Bianca Gonzales. After nun, nag-implement na ako ng tracking para alam ko kung ilan na players," he said.

The number of players rose to 200,000 daily a week before it celebrates its first month. "Nakakagulat," said De Guia.

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De Guia, a masteral student in electrical engineering at University of the Philippines also made strategy games like Civilization to test his peers' coding skills and simple card games for his orgmates in UP to beat COVID isolation blues.

Saltong is easy and won't take too much time to play, he said. Its share function makes every player a part of a growing online community, whether you solved the puzzle or not.

"Magiging interested ka so ita-try mo rin, 'ay madali lang, sige laruin ko.' Siguro after nun nabitin ka kasi one word a day lang, so every day meron kang inaabangan," he said.

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Just one puzzle per day keeps users hooked, he said. "Siguro kung nilabas mo lahat ng words sa isang bagsakan, baka hindi siya ganun kasikat."


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Unlike Wordle which only has the five-letter word game per day, De Guia created more variants in his version. There's the four-letter game Saltong Mini, and the seven-letter Saltong Max, all based on English version.

He added Saltong Hex, inspired by The New York Times' Spelling Bee, where players need to figure out as many words as they can, minimum four letters, with the "center letter" present in every word.

"Marami nagrereklamo na sayang isang word lang daw per day, naisip ko kaysa gawing multiple five-letter words per day, what if gawa na lang ako ng variant na ibang number of letters naman so may four and five letters," he said.

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De Guia said he selected the words to be played in all the Saltong variants from a Tagalog dictionary. In case of missing words, players can report it at the Reklamo Corner

This doesn't mean he can solve all the puzzles, though. He told reportr that there were days when he couldn't figure out the words. "Pagdating ng Day 5, Day 6 'di ko na kabisado 'yung mga pinili ko so kasama na ako sa nanghuhula," he said, laughing.

It gets difficult sometimes because of transliteration to Tagalog from English, he said. "Cake" for example is spelled as it sounds, hence "keyk".

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"Most of our words use repetitive letters so kunwari 'bababa.' Sa format kasi ng game mahirap malaman kung umuulit ba 'yung letter," said De Guia.

Tagalog words also have alternative spellings, like "tenyente" (lieutenant), which people flagged because "tinyente" is also commonly used.

The main Saltong has the most finished games at 207,000 as of Feb. 4, compared to Mini and Max variants with around 100,000 games finished, said De Guia.

"It really makes me happy especially when people go out of their way to e-mail me or give me a chat just to say how much they enjoyed the game and how they're playing it with their friends and family."

To keep it for free, Saltong needs the community

The New York Times' acquisition of Wordle got netizens worried it could be the end of the free word game that sparked a worldwide craze. Before that, the game was ad- and subscription-free.

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While the U.S. newspaper said the game would "initially remain free", those playing Saltong wished the Filipino version wouldn't be placed behind a paywall.

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As of Feb, 4, less than 10 people contributed to the tip jar to keep Saltong running "for at least a few months," he said. 

"If ever may mga lumapit or may gustong gumawa ng deals, open naman ako doon as long as it stays free and playable ng lahat," said De Guia.

While he runs the Saltong site alone, players help him by reporting bugs, website issues, and suggesting improvements. Saltong's code is also open sourced, so those who want to create their own version, like the Bisaya version Kuan, can clone it. 

What's next after Saltong? De Guia plans to finish coding his Tagalog crossword, capitalizing on the demand for word games in our own language.

"Baka mas ma-appreciate nila kung meron tayong more Tagalog word games."

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