Why strand.spreen.co is Now Offline

Thursday, June 20, 2024 by Nick

Thank you for navigating to strand.spreen.co
I appreciate everyone who got some use out of this archive for the short time it existed. The TL;DR of this post is: NYT sent me a copyright notice that I will comply with. The website is now shut down. Keep on reading for a bit of a backstory, drama, and some learnings.

I want to take a moment to talk about three things: The developments that I expect lead to NYT shutting this site down, what you might be able to learn from it, and what’s next.

copy cats

Only a week after I finished this passion project and made it free for everyone on the internet to use and play, I realized that there were at least three domains popping up on google. All being called something along the lines of new-york-times-strands-archive.to
I was not affiliated with any of them and yet they prominently showed the interface that I designed for strand.spreen.co
The same colors, font, layout, and functionality. It was pretty clear that people downloaded my website’s code and copied it to their own website. More on why that’s not just a suspicion later. I do not hold the copyright to the new york times brand and made sure to not include any words like “new york times”, “strands”, or even “spangram” on my website. I did, however, use the same puzzle layout as the times and was aware that I do not hold copyright of those puzzles. I do hold the copyright of my code, website, design, and code files. So I was taking legal actions to take these pages down.

Cloudflare hosted these fraudsters’ domains and firewall, and did not comply with my requests. Letters from real lawyers would’ve cost me money, money for a project that I made for free and that I have never earned a penny on. Reddit and ProductHunt did comply and I hold them in high regard for doing so. Cloudflare, Hostinger, and Google did not, and so the copy cats were kept alive.

These pages prominently boast about copying the “new New York Times game Strands” which boosted their SEO but also made these pages easy to find for the Times. I expect that’s why they started to litigate against all of us. That includes pages that stole my code, slapped adult video page style ads on them, probably made thousands of dollars these last few months, and also me. Who just built a useful tool for people to play previous days’ puzzles and didn’t make a dime on it, hosting the whole thing at my own expense.


The insulting part is that these people didn’t even spend the time to make sure the code works. The encoding was all wrong, so you didn’t get 1/3 of a hint with every non-theme word, but ÷¿? hints. They also didn’t bother actually coding the part that lets you solve the theme words. It just looked like it was working and that was enough for the copy cats. If you actually tried to solve the puzzle, it did not work. Nothing was being solved. I did end up encrypting my code, adding symmetric encryption to all the resource files containing the puzzles, and made all of these changes in addition with some improvements and fixes available under a web bundle that was obfuscated, had debugger protection, and domain name checks. Not a perfect solution and definitely not enough to deter a skilled web developer, but since these people copied code instead of writing it themselves it was clear that it was good enough to deter them from copying and improvements from now on.

Unfortunately the learning here is: Off shore developers from third world countries with no ethics will steal your stuff. Even if it’s not something that’s making you money. And them stealing it will put them at the top of the Google search results which is bad for your reputation and might result in the entire product space being taken down.

Just before anyone claims they just coded the site themselves by the way: The person who bought these domains dm’d me on reddit and admitting to stealing it. Asking me to please reverse the encryption because he needs money and lives in a poor country. The nerve of some people… I told him to learn how to build a reputable and legal business instead and gave him advice on becoming a web developer on fiverr or something along those lines. I’m not a monster.

what’s next

I’m an indie developer between projects. That’s why I had time to build strand.spreen.co
I will release something soon, I’m just not decided which project to prioritize, and this demotivating side story has taken some wind out of my sails. If you want to keep up with what I build next, either follow me on twitter at spreen_co or email me at [email protected] If you managed to read this far, I will send an offline copy of the code of strand.spreen.co if you email me at the above address. It might just give you some insights into how to play old puzzles without this website existing.

If you want to learn more about my freelance work and might have some work for me, check out my portfolio and freelance work landing page.

I don’t accept donations because I recently immigrated into the U.S. and haven’t figured out the tax situation for this stuff. If donating to support projects like this is something you wish to do, let me know and I’ll set up a patreon.

Thank you,
— Nick