Waffle Game Creator James Robinson Talks Inspiration Behind His Multi-Word Puzzle
Waffle icons courtesy of James Robinson
About the Waffle Game
Waffle is a browser word game that challenges you to unjumble six different five-letter words. These words connect in a waffle-shaped pattern, hence the name of the Waffle online game. To play Waffle, you swap letters by dragging one letter from one scrambled word to another. The catch is you only get 15 chances to swap letters. If you can’t solve all six words before that, the game is over.
Clearly, Waffle is similar to Wordle as you need to find the answer with a limited number of attempts. And, letters will turn yellow if they're in the correct word or green if in the correct spot of the correct word. From there, though, the Waffle game takes on its own identity.
Get to Know James Robinson, Waffle Maker
When we talked with James Robinson, the creator of Waffle, the first thing we wanted to do was get to know the man behind the game. It’s always a pleasure to learn who game developers are as people and what led them to make their games.
WordFinder: Would you mind telling us a bit about yourself and what you do?
James Robinson: Yeah, sure. I'm a software developer and live with my wife and two cats in the UK. Thirty-six years old. I've been working in software for about 15 years now. I work for a small company, and we provide professional training for small businesses.
WF: Very nice. So you've had a lot of experience working with computers and programming. And how about your history with word games? What is it about them that you enjoy most? Do you have any favorites?
James: Yeah, I've done a lot of different programming over the years. Generally settling with web apps. I haven't had any history making word games, but I grew up with Boggle and Scrabble and various other board games. I loved Boggle. It's still a great game!
Oh, and we've been playing a lot of Bananagrams lately. I think I enjoy the surprise when the letters in front of you materialize into a word. The word was there all along but you have to give your brain a chance to see it!
I enjoyed Wordle, when I discovered that this year. I think I mostly loved the simplicity of it.
I'd wanted to make a game for years. Any game! I just wanted to make one and put it out there. But I never managed to finish one.
I sell custom Dobble cards on Etsy, and wrote a web app for people to design them with, but that's as close as I'd got.
The Success of Wordle and the Inspiration for Waffle
After hearing a bit about James’ background, we got right into the details of how the Waffle game came to be.
WF: Speaking of Wordle, what did you think of its rapid success and popularity? Especially in regard to its appearance on social media?
James Robinson: I think it's awesome. I feel so happy for the creator Josh Wardle, just because I can relate to him a lot; he loves making things too. He just wanted to make something fun, but it had perfect balance and hit that sweet spot for everyone. I think its spread on social media was a result of it just being great. People wanted to share it, and he took their lead on that and helped them share it.
And if something has wide appeal, it will spread on social media. But also on the hidden web. Is that what they call it? I forget the buzzword. But the web we don't see, as in people's WhatsApp messages with their friends and family. It's a very family-friendly, easily digestible thing, so [it] spread through those channels too. I like to think Waffle is getting around a bit through those channels too.
WF: How did you come up with the idea for Waffle? What prompted you to use the waffle pattern, and how did you go about making it?
James: Well, I was washing the dishes after dinner and thinking whether you could have a word game where you have to drag letters into a 4 x 4 grid, and each row and column spells out a word.
So, I quickly sat down at the computer, and within 20 minutes I'd written some code to try to generate a combination of words that fit, but it didn't work. I don't think it is very possible, or at least not easily repeatable many times over for a puzzle. So, then I stretched to five-letter words in that grid shape. I thought it would be much easier to find words that would fit together if I leave the gaps. Squareword actually has proved that you can fit 15 five-letter words together in a grid without any gaps, but I didn't get as far as trying that layout.
So, I drew out an example on paper; the waffle shape with some letters filled in and others blank, and told my wife you have to put letters in the gaps. She said it looked like a waffle as soon as she saw it.
My plan was that you drag letters from a selection of the whole alphabet into the correct places in the grid/waffle. They would then go green/yellow (inspired by that mechanic of Wordle).
But I soon thought it would just be easier to have all the letters in the waffle to start with, see what colors they are and then rearrange them until you've solved it. It just meant less dragging around, gave you a good starting point, and saved on-screen space. It was a lot less fiddly.
Waffle’s Reception by Word Game Lovers
With such a clever design, it was only a matter of time before word game fans discovered and began playing Waffle. And as James Robinson explained, a number of coincidental factors led even more people to find his game. There’s also the fact that the Waffle game has a secret hard mode, which gives many dedicated players something to discuss.
WF: How has the overall reception for the game been? We saw your tweet from the other week about reaching 100k players in a day. We’ve also seen a lot of posts about the game in the Wordle subreddit.
James Robinson: Yeah, the reception has been amazing! I couldn't ask for anything better really. I tested the game with friends first to make sure it was the right level of challenge and to iron out some issues my friend had with his ancient iPhone, and threw it on Reddit, on Feb 13, 2022. That was a Sunday. I spent the whole Saturday finishing it off.
I've been astounded by how many positive messages I've received about it. For the first few days, it got to around 800 players a day and just stayed like that. The immediate reception on Reddit was good, but nothing overwhelming.
And then on February 23, it hit 8k players! It seemed to be due to being featured in a PC Gamer online article. After that, it grew steadily by 1-2k players a day. People were sharing it on Twitter. It was great. On Saturdays, it would dip, but overall it was spreading. I had very little to do with it.
Then, on Tuesday, March 15, it shot up to 77k players. I think this was partly down to a dog called Waffle becoming Twitter famous that day! A bit of hashtag overlap! It has been growing steadily since then and hit 150k for the first time yesterday [March 29].
WF: A trending dog is definitely a great way to get some promotion. And 150k yesterday? That's awesome! Congratulations. Waffle is a fun game, and that's the proof.
James: It's fun, but it is also sometimes a bit challenging. I'll admit there have been a few days when I messed things up and cost myself my streak.
I have had very few negative reactions, but some people have claimed that the words I've used are not real words. I keep an eye on the list to make sure there are no words that are debatable or dubious. That's probably been a big portion of the development; making sure the word list is good. That's a good reason for having the word definitions, as it helps prove that they are real words!
Overall, I think people are happy with the level of challenge. It needs to be "tricky.” Not hard, or easy, just that right level. I checked the results of a waffle the other day, and 60% of people solved it, and 40% failed, so I think that's a good level.
Whereas the "secret waffle" I tried out the other day... that had eight seven-letter words in it. It was much more of a challenge. Only about 17% of people solved that one! But it still got a good response. People enjoyed the challenge. I wanted that one to be a higher level of difficulty.
WF: Can you talk a bit more about the secret waffle?
James: The secret waffle was just something I did for "Waffle Day" on March 25. I had been playing around with the idea of a 7 x 7 waffle, so I thought that was a perfect time to try it. So I made some mention of it the day before, and then put a "#secretwaffle" link which was displayed after you had completed the standard daily waffle. It gave me a chance to see what people thought of the greater challenge and capture some statistics about it. Plus everyone likes a surprise gift!
What’s Happening for Waffle in the Future
At the end of our time speaking with James, the last question WordFinder® had for James was about Waffle’s future. Games regularly receive updates and additions, and we were curious if he had any ideas in that vein for his Waffle online game.
WF: My only other question aside from the secret waffle was if you had anything else you wanted to share, such as any thoughts, future plans or ideas.
James Robinson: For the future, I'm planning on introducing that 7 x 7 "deluxe waffle" more regularly. I've also had a lot of people asking for more "practice" waffles, or unlimited random waffles to solve in their own time. I'm a bit reluctant to do this, as I think it's fun to have the anticipation of a new waffle each day, and everyone attempts to solve it in the same box of time. But I think I can find a good compromise.
I only work on this in my spare time, so it's very limited, but I love the feedback and seeing people share their fun moments with it, and I've had some generous people donating money to keep it afloat (the hosting costs are rising with the volume of players I'm getting), so I'm honored by all of that and motivated to keep going with it. It's the best side-project I've had.
WF: Very nice. We look forward to seeing what you do with the larger puzzles. Waffle has certainly proven to be a game that people enjoy.
James: Thanks, it's been a pleasure to chat about my little Waffle project with you. I hope it has been interesting.
WF: Likewise, James. And yes, this has been very interesting. We love hearing about people's work and passion projects.
More Wordle-Inspired Games to Check Out
We would like to thank James Robinson once again for taking the time to speak with us about the Waffle online game. If you are interested in learning more about the game, be sure to follow @thatwafflegame on Twitter.
Waffle is one of the more unique word games to stem from Wordle’s popularity. Wordle and the games that follow its design patterns are always fun, but there’s something refreshing about playing a game that takes what you know and turns it into something new. If you’d like to find more games that test the boundaries of the Wordle design, you can find plenty in our list of fun Wordle spinoffs. Tons of games have popped up since Wordle hit the scene, and that means there’s something for everyone.
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.