No one has done more in recent years to bring puzzle culture into the mainstream than The New York Times. Nobody, except Taylor Swift.

A famous scrabble and numerology enthusiast, Swift has turned her ardent fans into sleuths, searching her lyrics, outfits, music videos and body language for clues about what she might do next. Since the early days of her music career, when she hid secret messages inside liner notes, Swift has gamed her fandom in a way that has attracted millions of players around the world.

These puzzles and games were largely casual and relied on dropping hints for fans to pick up and play. But last year, a fan decided to make the game official, and since then, Swifties have been flocking to play.

About six months ago, I noticed a new trend in my social media feeds. Where I used to see people posting their daily Wordle and Connections scores, they were now posting scores from a game called Mastermind. The screenshots showed clothes that I, as a fan, recognized as being worn by Swift during the Eras tour. Upon further investigation, I discovered that the mastermind could be found within the Swift Alert app, a brilliant fan service move by North Carolina resident Kyle Mumma and his wife.

After attending the opening night of the Eras Tour in March 2023 in Glendale, Arizona, the duo found themselves doing what many Swifties do: tuning in to a grainy live stream to watch the show night after night. Mama realized that as the show started moving, first across the country and then around the world, it was difficult to keep track of the start time and point of the show when Swift would play her surprise song each night — a much-anticipated highlight for fans whether they were in attendance or not.

The idea for Swift Alert, which checks people in on showtimes no matter where they live, came from the hosts of the Every Single Album podcast, which Mumma was listening to while walking his dog. With his background in software, he thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to build. So within 24 hours he hired a young engineer from Türkiye and they got to work.

Swift Alert launched in August 2023 just before the Mexico City shows, where Mumma sat up until 2 a.m. sending alerts to 20 to 30 users who found the app in the App Store. “I was like, what do I do?” He told me over Zoom.

During shows in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in November, things really started to take off. By that weekend, the app had about 200 users. By the end, it had been downloaded about 150,000 times. Mumma credits two big Swiftie TikTok accounts for the app’s overnight viral success.

Over time, Mumma and his small team received suggestions to add more features to the app, including a calendar, newsfeed, and some tests. “The request to track down the surprise song was a very early request,” he said. Then, before the Tokyo shows in February of this year, they added Mastermind to the app.

How does Taylor Swift Master Mind game work?

The way the game works is that before each show, people can guess what outfit looks Swift will be wearing that evening (for most sets, she has multiple options) and what surprise songs will be, as well as guess what color guitar she’ll be wearing. Gameplay and other variants offered by Mumma based on fan theories about the shows.

Screenshot of Mastermind game Screenshot of Mastermind game

I can’t wait to see how I go wrong this week.

Screenshot by CNET

Thus, on the evening of June 7, as I watched with delight Swift materialize before my eyes from beneath her colorful fronds at sunset in unusually cold Edinburgh, Scotland, I found a small part of my brain clock losing six points for not guessing the lovers’ suit correctly. correct.

That night, I had the worst score ever in a Mastermind game, 27 points out of a possible 208. I can’t say I came away feeling disappointed though – I was able to see that it was possible to survive, after all. I’m also consistently bad at the game, although I play it more religiously than Wordle and Connections, which I’m relatively good at.

Thanks to social media, I know I’m not the only one checking my Mastermind scores while actually attending an Eras Tour, but ticket holders aren’t the game’s primary target audience. Really, it’s for people who are sitting at home, who aren’t there that night – or any night, really. I know from playing the game before the Eras Tour arrived in the UK that it made me feel connected to what was happening on stage each evening, and to the global fan community.

Mumma boasts that the game now includes players in every single country (which Google Analytics tracks), including places the Eras Tour will never visit. “We had a user in Ghana comparing the results with a user in Cambodia, and this was not something we expected at all,” he said.

On X, I saw a user joke that one day someone would appear on the leaderboard, which is displayed on the app after every show, with a perfect score and that person would turn out to be Swift herself. It’s doubtful that she’s not aware of the game’s existence yet, but she hasn’t admitted it yet.

Meeting point for Swifties

It’s fair to say that Swift has slowly taken several steps back from where she previously lurked online over the past few years, and that’s entirely her business. On several occasions, people whose social media posts the star liked retroactively edited them to make it appear as if Swift favored messages she had never actually seen. In light of this, it’s easy to assume that these platforms no longer feel like safe spaces for her to casually interact with fans.

In its absence, the online fandom lacked a central point around which to rally, but the mastermind served as a unifying force. On the night of its premiere in Edinburgh, the game surpassed 100,000 players for the first time, and with each Eras Tour concert, the game continues to grow.

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Even when I’m right, I’m wrong.

Screenshot by CNET

There were times when the massive increase in players almost toppled the app (in fact, on that first night in Tokyo, Mastermind crashed and I lost all results). But Mumma and his initial team of four, which also includes a social media executive, have managed the growing number of users brilliantly. The app remains free and there are no ads or data collection. You can choose to pay a one-time $2 fee, which helps keep the lights on, but the project is still a bit of fun, not a business.

“It’s supposed to be a place for people to have a good time, play a game and enjoy this amazing tour and amazing artist,” Mumma said. His priority throughout has been to show Swift Alert and Mastermind that it is possible to make technology products that “make the world better.”

As for what lies ahead for Swift Alert and Mastermind when the Eras tour comes to a close in December, Mumma doesn’t know yet. The entire experience has been designed around the tour, so it’s difficult to envision how it will evolve, he said. “If I had it my way, you’d be touring forever, and we could do this forever, because we’re having a blast.”

Every now and then, Mumma and his team will keep the game going while growing hordes of Swifties place their bets and then hold their breath only to learn they’ve once again gotten the surprise songs wrong.

I’ve learned a lot from playing Mastermind, but it all boils down to this: if you think you know what Swift is going to do next, don’t do it. You should not trust anyone who claims this. She’s two, three, four steps ahead of us at all times. We may love the game, but it’s the only mastermind – and that’s what makes it fun.

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