I'm sure you've all seen answers like this. For example, with the question "go through the centers of all of the circles with six lines," you can do it in one!

Yeah... no. This answer is clearly not in the spirit of the puzzle. Other examples: "Imagine .... How do you get out?" "Stop imagining!"; "How do you figure out what happened without being in the room?" "Video tape it!"; etc.

What should we do with these? Sure, I'll reluctantly admit that they are, in fact, answers, but they're absolutely not good answers. And yet people still upvote them and are generally fine with them.

Puzzling Stack Exchange is not a forum. These make us look like a forum. So how should we deal with these "troll" answers without writing a five page essay for every question specifying what is and is not allowed?

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    $\begingroup$ I just stumbled across this question, so I don’t know what discussion may have been on-going 2½ years ago.  What does your image have to do with your post?  What does it have to do with circles and lines? $\endgroup$ – Peregrine Rook Mar 13 '17 at 19:16

Categorizing answers as "clearly not in the spirit of the puzzle" or as "troll" answers seems subjective, no matter how obvious the categorization may be to you. Votes help quantify users' subjective views. So, there is already a mechanism in place to help address this concern about answers.

However, consider that "troll" answers can be useful for exploring the boundaries of a puzzle. I see the value of having stock answers to stock puzzles, but some people are going to respond with "but what if you go about it this other way..." and come at a puzzle from a different direction. Those answers should be collected, too, if they are not useless noise.

If a puzzle is garnering a high number of "troll" answers, though, the asker should seriously consider if the question is stated imprecisely or ambiguously. For example, with your first example question, the asker didn't mention circle centers except in a comment. Maybe many people are already familiar with the "spirit of the puzzle", but you can't legitimately fault answers that don't take into account unspecified restrictions. Of course, voting on the question is a mechanism to help persuade askers to do a better job describing puzzles.

Having said that, the burden on askers to trollproof questions seems particularly high for puzzle questions. With your first example question again, maybe it was originally designed to be answered by the average nerdy tween, but "trolls" who know technical definitions of words such as "line" and are familiar with different topologies are not going to limit their answers unless explicitly restricted. Perhaps Puzzling.SE needs something akin to PCG's list of standard loopholes then.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for standard loopholes. We don't need a five page essay every question, just one really good five page essay. :) $\endgroup$ – isaacg Aug 21 '14 at 23:54

Downvote them. They are answers, and they're not really (necessarily) VLQ. As the tooltip says, a downvote means "this answer is not useful," which is exactly the problem.

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    $\begingroup$ "But that costs reeepppp!" I know I feel that way at times. $\endgroup$ – Joe Z. Oct 11 '14 at 0:07
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that this is what should be done, but there's a practical problem. In aggregate, users will just vote up things they think are funny, without regard to content quality. Example. I'm pessimistic about whether we can stem such a tide, especially given Joe Z's insightful remark about the cost. At the end of the day, having significantly-upvoted-yet-obviously-joke answers lying around is bad. $\endgroup$ – Esoteric Screen Name Feb 9 '15 at 7:25

I personally think that that answer is valid and is correct, just like the one using the image as a texture on a cylinder.

But I do agree that answering "Video tape it!" to a question such as "How do you figure out what happened without being in the room?" is a bit trolling.

So as Muqo said, it's subjective, and so I will accede with Kevin's suggestion to just downvote the answer, unless everybody agrees to remove it, since this is a community Q&A, so there is demoracy.


So how should we deal with these "troll" answers...

In my opinion, when a puzzle receives what you call "troll answers" that are plausible in reality (which is the reason they get upvoted), it's more of the OP's fault that they did not tighten up the puzzle.

For example, in order for a user to be able to answer with

Video tape it!

It must mean that the OP neglected to add a simple requirement into the puzzle like

  • Given that you can only use the objects inside the room...


  • Given that you can only use the rope you're holding...


...without writing a five page essay for every question specifying what is and is not allowed?

You won't need to write a "five page essay" to properly tighten up your puzzle. Like the example requirement above, it basically blocks most of the visible shortcuts.

Yes, I know. The possibilities for "troll answers" can be endless, but common knowledge kicks in and the absurd ones get downvoted.

If even after you've given such requirements, and a user manages to find a plausible shortcut, well... what can I say? It'll be a pretty good answer! And I'll probably upvote it!


If you find the question vague, broad or otherwise not fit for the site, leave the comment, in harder cases use downvotes, flags or close votes.

Giving stupid answers only to proove that the question is stupid is unconstructive and is simply trolling. Such answers should be removed, because they are not attempting to answer the question, but to force own agenda.

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    $\begingroup$ Stupid is often in the eye of the beholder. $\endgroup$ – Ole Tange Nov 4 '14 at 8:51

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