The Story of Squaredle: Talking With Game Creator Michael Giuffrida
Photo courtesy Michael Giuffrida
So, What Is Squaredle?
If that’s your first question, we have the answer. Squaredle is a word unscrambler game that takes inspiration from Wordle, Boggle and other popular word games. Each daily puzzle generates a collection of letters in a 4 x 4 square (or a 5 x 5 square for certain puzzles). You need to sort out every word you can find in the letters and hit the minimum goal for the day.
You can also keep going and find every possible word in the puzzle. For the completists out there, Squaredle caters to your desire to go all-out. The game also has an active leaderboard for sharing scores and words found, which gives you even more of a reason to find every word.
Squaredle Stats and Figures
Since the Squaredle’s original launch on March 5, 2022, the game has earned a dedicated following and player base. Here’s a breakdown of the Squaredle game’s stats and player data (as of July 2022).
120,000+ unique players to date
30,000+ average weekly players:
18,000 average daily visitors
5% of daily players have a Squaredle Squared premium subscription
80% of Squaredle players play from their phones
Top 10 countries: United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Ireland, South Africa, Singapore, France
Top 10 cities: New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Sydney, Washington D.C., Toronto, Seattle
As you play Squaredle throughout the week, the puzzles become progressively harder. The player statistics reflect this.
Mondays (start of the week): The average player finds approximately 90% of the required words, and 75% of players finish the puzzle.
Sundays (end of the week): Players find approximately 60% of the day's words on average, but only 25% manage to finish all the words.
For daily Squaredle updates and stats, follow @SquaredleApp on Twitter.
How to Play Squaredle
Do you need a better rundown of how Squaredle works? That’s fine, we’re happy to help.
When you start a puzzle, you’ll see the square of random letters. Tap and hold any of the letters to begin making a word.
Drag your finger or cursor across the other letters to complete the word. You can move horizontally, vertically or diagonally, but you can only use each letter square once.
If the word is valid, the game will add points to your total score. It will also tell you how many words are left (per word length).
Every word you form must be at least four letters long.
As you form words, the game starts to reveal hints that can help you find the remaining words. It’ll show how many words start with each of the letter blocks, for example.
Get to Know Squaredle Creator Michael Giuffrida
Before we discussed Squaredle, the first thing we wanted to do was learn more about Michael Giuffrida, the man behind the game. Hearing a developer’s story is always a treat, and it always explains much about how their game came to life.
WordFinder: To start, would you like to tell us about yourself? Maybe give a quick rundown of your work and experience and what your interest in word games is?
Michael Giuffrida: I am a software engineer at Google. I actually have been on medical leave for the past year, and Squaredle has been a really interesting opportunity for me to practice going back into work and programming again.
I would say I’ve liked word games since I was a kid. I would do the crossword puzzles in our newspapers. My brother and I would compete in vocabulary quizzes. Things like that.
My whole family really is really big into words in general. My dad loves the crossword puzzle. My mom has an extensive vocabulary and is an amazing speller. It's just always been an interest of mine. And when Wordle came along, my extended family started a group chat to share our Wordle scores. And they discovered wordhuntle, which I’ll talk about more later.
I've been building websites for myself since I was a kid. But, [Squaredle] is the first one that's had a sort of major uptick, which has been great to see. It's nice that my 20 years of coding random projects are finally getting some traction. It's really cool to see.
WF: You were saying you've done various other projects. What were those other projects and other websites you built like?
Michael Giuffrida: One was a database where you could track models that you can build, wooden models and metal models you can build without any glue. It was a hobby of mine I discovered during COVID. You can track those and add things to your inventory or your wishlist. It was really more for me to practice learning some frameworks and things like that.
Before that, I was working on a sudoku puzzle game for Android, but nothing I'd ever intended to publish. It was just, “Hey, I want to learn [a programming language called] Kotlin. I want to try to keep my programming skills sharp.” So, I played around with trying to make different algorithms for solving sudoku like a human would. Then, I discovered an app in the Google Play Store that does exactly that much better than mine would have. So, I've [stopped] working on that project.
The Birth of the Squaredle Game
Michael’s experience, desire to practice his craft and the new Wordle obsession all combined perfectly to create an opportunity. Everything pointed him toward building his own daily online word game.
WF: Can you say a bit more about how you got to the point of saying, “All right, I'm gonna make Squaredle,” and not just, “I'm gonna make a game, and I'm gonna take inspiration from these other games.” What was the starting point for envisioning this final product?
Michael Giuffrida: It really evolved over time. Honestly, it started with a different game that looked like Squaredle [but] without most of the features of Squaredle. It was basically a digital Boggle. My family discovered that after the Wordle craze because a family friend wrote it. That game was called wordhuntle. There's a link to it on my About page on Squaredle. And it was fun.
We would share scores with each other. But, it was also frustrating because the word list was not very comprehensive. There were some words that didn't make any sense at all that were required words, in a sense. And there were very obvious words that were completely missing.
… I had gotten frustrated on some levels and said, “I'm going to write a solver for this because I've been learning Kotlin. That'll be a fun project.” So I did that. And to do that, I needed a word list. So I found a word list [Merriam-Webster] and realized that this word list is much better than the one that they were using. I actually contacted [the creators of wordhuntle] about it and let them know they could stand to improve the word list.
Eventually, as Michael worked on his solver while also playing wordhuntle, he realized he could combine everything he had built and learn to create his own game.
Michael Giufridda: The solver that I already had, I turned it into a puzzle generator. And the very first iteration of Squaredle was just something that would output a square to a puzzle to plain text. And I slowly built a web interface around that. Once I had the web interface, and the ability to drag through letters, I started realizing how much you could do with the medium. So things like having letters disappear once [they’re] no longer used, giving hints as to what letters start certain words or how long the words are, [these features] create a much more progressive feel as you go through the puzzle.
Whereas with something like NYT Spelling Bee, they give hints for the starting letters and for word lengths, but you never really know how close you are to getting rid of one of the letters. They just don't have that as a feature or possibility. So, I've been really having a lot of fun exploring what I can do with a digital game that I can't do with something in the newspaper.
Our discussion of how the Squaredle game developed and Michael’s experience updating it then brought us to the details about feedback.
Michael Giuffrida: You know, the feedback is an interesting thing you bring up, because one of the first things I did when I soft-launched Squaredle to 20 people, friends and family, was put in a feedback form where people could just submit anything they wanted… And I've been getting consistently a ton of feedback from that since that point, but most word games don't have anything like that… I would really urge other creators to try engaging with the community, whether it's over Twitter, a forum on your sites [or] Discord.
People will freely give you insight into how they view your app, what they struggle with, what things that might seem obvious to you that they can’t figure out, and what problems people are having. It ties into that versus a print puzzle. It’s harder for people to convey that kind of feedback.
WF: When did you first launch Squaredle? You did the private one for your testers, but when did it go live for everyone?
Michael Giuffrida: It was March 5. My family had been playing it for a while. And I made a bunch of improvements that have more features. I think I had the sign-in working at that point. That was a big thing I really wanted to get in before launching it.
So, I put it on Reddit, and it got a couple hundred clicks from that and from my family sharing it with their friends and family. And from there, it grew slowly, very linearly, a few more people every day. But it stayed in the low hundreds for quite a long time.
Talking about the launch brought us to the topic of the design process and the challenges Michael faced in creating Squaredle.
WF: As you were designing the game, were there any true surprises, either good or bad? Or was there anything you didn't expect or any kind of situations or problems you had to solve as you went?
Michael Giuffrida: The biggest thing I'll say is that I know iOS Safari doesn't have the best reputation. But it's where more than half of my players are. It's the biggest phone browser platform out there. And, of course, on iOS, you're not allowed to write for the Chrome browser engine. Safari also runs Chrome on iOS, Firefox [and so on]. And it is, in terms of web development, horrendous.
It's been shocking for me. I have an Android phone, and I develop [Squaredle] on a laptop. So, I'd get these bug reports from family members along the lines of, “This incredibly weird thing that should never happen is happening.” And I look at it and it's like, “Oh, I guess iOS Safari handles this in this weird way for some reason, and I have to not use this feature or find a workaround.” That's been the most painful thing. I had to buy Apple devices just to test on that platform.
[Safari] may delete website data if you don't use the site for seven days. So, Safari could decide you're not using Squaredle or Wordle anymore and clear all your stats. That's a big reason I put so much work into user registration and syncing — in Squaredle you can get most of your stats back by signing back in if this happens.
A workaround is to add the site as a shortcut to your home screen, but Safari also doesn't carry that data over, so again, signing in is necessary to preserve your stats.
Developing and managing the game hasn’t been all technical issues though. Some of the more interesting surprises from a design perspective were early player interactions.
Michael Giuffrida: From a design perspective, the thing that's been really interesting to me, and surprising to me, is kind of two-fold. It has really surprised me how completionist people are about the game. They want to get 32 out of 32 words. The first iteration of the game was like [The New York Times] Spelling Bee, where you level up as you go. And it didn’t necessarily tell you how many words are defined. You just find as many as you can, and then you stop playing, you share your score with your friends, and you compete on [the fact that] you found 20 words.
But the overwhelming feedback I got was people wanted to know how many words there were [in total]. They wanted to know when they were done. Even today, the vast majority of players finish the puzzle. They don't like leaving it unfinished. They'll spend 10 minutes on the first half of it and then an hour if they need to get the last half of it [or even] the last couple of words.
I eventually scrapped most of the leveling-up system (all of that is still present in the perk system) and moved to the word counter to the top. And along those lines, bonus words are how we handle the large number of obscure words you're going to get from a four-by-four grid of letters. People want words to be referred to because they want to be able to complete a puzzle. That means you need to limit which words are required for completing the puzzle based on words that you think people are going to know.
There are so many people on the leaderboard today that just rack up the bonus words. It's like the second part of the game to them. I never expected that to be a fun challenge for people. That was there as a fallback for, “OK, well, yes, it's technically a word. So I'm not going to penalize your accuracy for it or anything. I'm going to give you some credit for it.” But not, “It's not a word that most people will need to find to say they solved the puzzle.” [There] are people who just get such a kick out of finding words.
Squaredle’s Warm Reception by Word Game Fans
Mention of the player’s feedback and their interest in leaderboards brought another question forward. Many people have clearly enjoyed the game, so we wanted to hear more about how people have enjoyed the game.
WF: How has the response and reception and everything in general been over these past few months? You have dedicated players that are trying to find every word. How is it also going for everyone enjoying the game in general?
Michael Giuffrida: It's been pretty fantastic. People seem to love it. My retention rate is really high, meaning when people discover the game, they tend to come back the next day. And if they come back the next day, they're coming back every day after that. I got messages through my feedback form from people saying they played this game with their family every day or they're competing with friends they haven't seen in a long time. It's great to see people engaging with it like that.
I recently swapped the order in which you got a couple of perks on the board (the hints that appear on the board), and I got a lot of feedback saying it makes it so much better.
I do get critical feedback and negative feedback. Some of it is just kind of funny, and some of it is very honest and helpful. It's a mix. But, overall, the community has been really great. We have an active Discord. There's a subreddit, and it's a great resource for me to know what people want to see in the game and how I can improve the game. It's great to see people talking about it and having fun with [playing Squaredle].
Michael takes all of the feedback, good and bad, to heart when he updates and works on the game. That’s why he carefully plans any and all features he adds to it.
Michael Giuffrida: If I'm going to add complexity and confuse people, it needs to be for a good reason. It needs to be something that people are going to engage with. The leaderboards have been particularly important for how this game has grown. People like that aspect of competing and seeing if they can get to the top.
This talk of player consideration led us to mention our appreciation of the Squaredle’s visual design and user interface, which Michael was happy to hear.
Michael Giuffrida: That's great to hear. I am not a visual designer by any means. I'm pretty terrible at that. And [Squaredle] has gone through a few iterations. At one point, I stuck it on Reddit and I said, “How can I make my design less terrible?” and I got some good feedback. But a lot of it has just been trial and error, tweaking, playing around with the code and seeing what looks nice to me and what people don't get confused by.
Squaredle Features That Go the Extra (Square) Mile
Squaredle’s core game is already enough to make visiting the site every day worthwhile. Of course, that did not stop Michael Giuffrida from adding plenty of other features and options for everyone to enjoy as they played his game.
WF: Can we talk more about the extra modes and the extra features you’ve added to Squaredle? You were talking about the leaderboards, but you have a fair bit of stuff that we’re seeing on the site.
Michael Giuffrida: The leaderboards were the first thing that I added that was another layer to the game. At first, I sorted them by word, then by bonus words and then who completed the puzzle first that day. When I got to the point where there were more than 500 people playing the puzzle, so that you wouldn't necessarily be on the leaderboard even if you've completed it, I think people started wanting more.
So, I experimented with sorting by accuracy first as sort of the tie-breaker. Among the people who completely completed the puzzle, the top person on the leaderboard is going to be the person who made the fewest mistakes (punched in the fewest words that weren't words).
And the feedback I got from that was, “Oh my God, this is way too stressful.” “This game has given me anxiety.” So, I very quickly backed off that and switched to a speed-based system.
[But] people also hated feeling the pressure of the timer. For a lot of people, it's just a casual, relaxing game. So, I knew that I had to provide all of those options: just sorting by bonus words [or] sorting by accuracy for people who want to focus on that.
My brother competes with some of his friends on getting the fewest nonwords that they can and sorting on speed. If you want to solve it as quickly as you can, your accuracy might be terrible, because you're just going all over the place. But that's a different kind of challenge.
As far as other modes, there have been a couple of special puzzles. I released Squaredle Squared, which is the premium membership that gives you access to the puzzle archives and gives you a little bit of an upgrade in terms of the hints system and icon next to your name in the leaderboard.
Once I hit 50 subscribers, which I was very excited about, I made an extra-large puzzle for people to play. It was a five-by-five puzzle with 229 words that people spent hours and hours on. I just loved having that, so I have a permanent link to that in a special puzzles site. And of course, the Waffle crossover. You can also play that anytime from there.
The archives are just the ability to play yesterday's puzzle or the puzzles from two months ago. And if you want, you can replay a puzzle you've already played. Because, unless you have an amazing memory, I think a lot of these puzzles, you'll need to find the words all over again. I create the puzzles and I still struggle with them. So it’s the kind of thing that can be fun, I think, indefinitely.
WF: How did you get the idea to offer Squaredle Squared and to add the paid membership features? When did you decide this would be good for Squaredle?
Michael Giuffrida: The main drive behind that was to offer access to the archives. I decided to make access to the archives a paid thing simply as a way of generating money to keep the service going. I’m not quite ready to throw ads on the site, especially on a phone where your screen is pretty small and you need a four-by-four grid. This seemed like a pretty obvious sort of monetization strategy that's not going to make me rich, but it's going to let people who really enjoy the site [to] support it.
And, as a reward, they get to play puzzles they haven't played before, or not have to worry about playing the game every single day. That's why the archives were so important to me in the first place. I think it's a bit unhealthy to have a game that punishes you for not logging into it every day. I think it depends on your relationship with technology.
But, that's also why I chose 6 a.m. Eastern Time as the reset time for Squaredle. It's late enough on the West Coast and early enough on the East Coast that you can play first thing when you wake up, but you're not going to be playing it in bed after midnight when puzzles like Wordle reset. It's not a game where I want you staring at your screen in bed, messing with your sleep. It's a bit more something you play throughout the day. And of course, in Europe, it releases around 11 a.m. or noon, which still sort of works. I think Australia, that's probably where it releases late at night.
I'd like to eventually let you choose when you get the new puzzle, but I'm not quite sure how to do that yet and balance it with the leaderboards.
Crafting Squaredle’s Progressively Difficult Puzzles
The examination of the game’s extra features eventually brought us to the varying difficulty levels of the daily puzzles. This was something Michael wanted to provide more detail on.
Michael Giuffrida: I guess there are two other dimensions I should talk about. One is the difficulty level. It's like [The] New York Times Crossword-style. Monday is the easiest puzzle; it's a three-by-three puzzle with 20 words. Tuesday's puzzle is four by four, but not as many words, no difficult letter combinations, and no words that are less obscure. And then Friday is usually the hardest with again, a four-by-four puzzle but with a lot more words. You can't just add “-ing” to words. You've got to find a number of different patterns.
Saturday and Sunday, I usually play around with. Sunday is usually a five-by-five with maybe a Wednesday or Thursday difficulty level but more words because there are more letters. And I'll tweak the difficulty level by putting a hole in the center of the puzzle or something like that. And Saturdays are usually just for me to try something interesting, like only using four letters in the entire puzzle and repeating those letters in different ways. Or, having the same kind of prefix or suffix in most of the words. It keeps it fresh, I think.
WF: How long does it take you to create each puzzle?
Michael Giuffrida: It depends on what I'm trying to do. I would say anywhere from five to 30 minutes. A Wednesday or Thursday puzzle is pretty easy to generate because my generator will suggest the puzzle based on what words are good to have in the puzzle, the word length distribution I want to have, and letter frequencies. Then, I'll tweak the puzzle. I might change a couple of letters to try to get different words in there. And that's usually pretty easy to do. And I'll come up with a puzzle that's got 40 or 60 words,
Making a Tuesday puzzle or a Wednesday puzzle is harder because you don't want it to have as many words, and it's much more difficult to construct a puzzle that is a nice-looking puzzle that doesn't have 80 words in it and is going to take you an hour to solve. So, it takes probably longer to create those puzzles than to solve those puzzles.
And when someone commissions a puzzle, which is something you can do on the [Squaredle] Ko-fi site to celebrate someone's birthday or an anniversary. There's one coming up for Harry Potter's birthday. It's going to be magic and wizarding-themed. That's a lot of fun because I got a list of words that I want to try to put into the puzzle. And I have to try to lay them out. I actually have physical letters that I printed out, and I'll lay them out kind of on a grid and try to see how can I get the most words possible in here by reusing letters, and without using so many common letters that the resulting puzzle has 200 words in it.
When I first showed Squaredle to my family, it was entirely random. It would generate letters based on word frequency… It worked like [Wordle answers] where you can kind of define the parameters, but it's going to randomly generate a word based on the date. So, Squaredle generated a puzzle based on the date, and those were just not fun. They put consonants in weird places. They had weird words in them. I think it's really important, for a puzzle that [the player] is going to be spending as much time as they spend on like Squaredle, for a human touch to craft it.
Waffle and the Other Wordle-Inspired Games
Michael Giuffrida and James Robinson, the creator of Waffle, collaborated on a Waffle-themed Squaredle game (which more than 40,000 people have played). Being huge fans of Waffle, we wanted to hear more about that, and we also wanted to know what word games had been Michael’s recent favorites.
WF: What do you think have been some of the other Wordle-style games that you've enjoyed the most?
Michael Giuffrida: I like Quordle a lot. I prefer it to Wordle, honestly, as well as the triangle and hex Wordle. I think they present more interesting challenges. And Waffle’s fun. Waffle’s totally different from anything else that exists out there. I've tried the other squared puzzles, like Squareword. There's also one called Squardle. It doesn't have that E. I assume they pronounce it “square-dle,” but without the E it would be “scwar-dle.” Of course, my brother calls my game Squirtle, like the Pokemon, so I'm not really one to judge. But, those were just a bit too complex for me.
I also like some of the word ladder games, like Weaver, where you have to creatively move from one word to another one letter at a time. There are a lot of different potential solutions, and you're looking for one that's optimal. It’s the same reason I like Waffle. It's not hard, necessarily, to solve it, but it's hard to do it in only 10 moves. And I play Redactle from time to time. But that can be a slog, sometimes, when you really have no idea of what the subject matter is. You're just guessing filler words and not really getting anywhere.
WF: Can you tell how you and James met and decided to do a Waffle and Squaredle collaboration?
Michael Giuffrida: We met in that Wordleverse Discord for Wordleverse.net. And we have been helping each other out with various programming problems for the past few months. I got the idea that [a] Waffle would be a great Squaredle puzzle if you can select the right Waffle that has enough, you know, good kind of words inside of it.
[James] was kind enough to share with me some upcoming Waffles and I selected one that I thought would work well. And, you know, it was a good experiment for him because he got to see how much traffic he can drive to other sites if he wants to pursue other relationships in the future. And it was obviously great for me, because I went from about 3,000 daily players to about 18,000 daily players, literally overnight. I think 35,000 people played that one Waffle puzzle. And about half of them went on to become daily players, which was pretty incredible.
The experience of working with James also had the added benefit of helping Michael gain some valuable knowledge.
Michael Giuffrida: It also taught me a lot about how to handle that sort of traffic. Because, despite the upgrades that I had made to the server in advance, there are a few configurations that I hadn't gotten right. So, for the first few minutes, it would just spin indefinitely until I fixed those. It was a good problem to have, but not the problem you want when you're doing something like that.
It’s been a great set of players, the new community that's been built up with the influx of players. Waffle players in general seem to be good people and great problem solvers.
Michael’s Final Thoughts on the Squaredle Word Game
At the end of the interview, we opened things up to Michael to share any last thoughts he wanted to share with us and the rest of the WordFinder community.
WF: To wrap things up, was there anything you wanted to share with everyone? Were there any topics we haven't gone over yet? Or was there anything for the future of the game or anything of interest to you that you'd like to discuss?
Michael Giuffrida: The main thing is to please be patient with me as I work out the word lists and the split between required words and bonus words. I think that's easily the largest source of feedback I get: “‘X’ should be a word. ‘Y’ should not be a required word.” I use a number of different sources to determine when something should be required, but a lot of it comes down to using my judgment and polling my friends and the community. And you'll get responses that are, you know, [just] totally at odds with each other.
And at times, I've changed the word and I'm going to continue to keep doing this. I'll make a word that was obscure, required, or vice versa as I get feedback. But, every time I do that, I get more feedback from people wanting me to undo that change. So, I'm still looking into ways of making the bonus words feel less frustrating, but it's hard. And I think people assume that their lexicon is the same as someone else's, which is not always the case. A word that seems obvious to you, based on where you grew up, I might not have ever heard of it, or vice versa.
The Bounty of Daily Word Games
We want to thank Michael Giuffrida again for taking the time to speak with us and explain how Squaredle came to be. Here at WordFinder, we love word games. And we appreciate being able to connect with people who share that love.
There truly is a lot to love about all of the free-to-play daily word games that have popped up recently. Wordle was the start, but Squaredle and many others have created a new demand for more. One game we can’t recommend enough is Quordle, which Michael mentioned is one of his favorites. It’s a blast, but it is also a harder version of Wordle’s formula. If you try the game and it gives you any trouble, turn to our Quordle solver for some assistance.
Zac Pricener has been a content creator for the past eight years. He’s a bit of an all-around nerd, and he has a bad habit of working movie and TV show references into conversations whenever possible.