Item: A blanket for my baby snake

This is a math question. It's an interesting math question — so interesting that it is a research problem whose solution is still unknown.

And the top-scoring answer as I write (note: it's since lost its top position) is a “thinking outside the box” solution, i.e. one that ignores one of the assumptions in the question to provide a “clever” answer.

Having a wrong (yes, it's wrong: it contradicts the assumptions in the question) answer is pretty damning for the image of the site.

Another less spectacular case: 8 upvotes, top score as I write for a nonsensical answer to a question that requires a good understanding of set theory to even model the problem correctly, and an understanding of the axiom of choice to solve.

Here's an even more egregious example on a pretty easy geometry question: want to join points with a line? Declare that a line is as thick as you like! (How many dimensions does a line have if you call it fat?) That nonsense answer got 63 upvotes. These aren't isolated cases: “clever” wrong answers to math questions often get a lot of upvotes. We aren't good at rating answers to math questions.

Given that the bulk of questions on this site are either about math or are what-am-I-thinking-of riddles, that's about half of our questions that aren't getting good collections of answers. Meanwhile, there is a thriving Stack Exchange site for math questions.

Should we declare that if a question involves non-elementary mathematics, then it isn't a puzzle anymore, it's a math question, and thus off-topic?

(Previous, related discussion: Are probability exercises on topic here?)

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I've also been wondering something similar: are questions which are simply puzzles even on-topic at all? The scope of the site as it was created in Area 51 was "the creation and solving of puzzles," which I read as "approaches to puzzle-solving," not "solve this specific puzzle." I'm not sure high-level math is the issue; it may just be "this is a puzzle; solve it" that's the problem. Thoughts still developing, though. Rumination is not complete! $\endgroup$
    – user20
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 0:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Emrakul On the topic of “solve this” as a question, see Gathering chestnuts, Is it on-topic to present specific logic puzzles or brainteasers as questions?, and other discussions about “challenges”. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 0:12
  • $\begingroup$ In my opinion, I feel like the question linked is better suited to Math.SE (I commented that on the question, too). I think (and could be wrong) that questions asked here shouldn't require any specialised knowledge to answer. They might be hard, non-obvious, require lateral thinking and so on and so forth, but I feel like puzzles should be more wordplay and thinking than they are mathematical or probabilistic knowledge $\endgroup$
    – Joe
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ I would say that the intention is different. Someone posting here should want a "thinking-out-of-the-box" solution - and they are interesting in their own right, if not formally correct mathematically. If you want a formal mathematical answer, then post it on Math.SE. $\endgroup$
    – d'alar'cop
    Commented Oct 14, 2014 at 16:23
  • $\begingroup$ puzzling.stackexchange.com/questions/3002/… this is a question from my side, it involves math, but to convert the words to a picture and then to solve it, the skills required are not just Math, moreover the Math SE would consider this question inappropriate because its not actually asking a formal Math question, where do you opine this fits better. $\endgroup$
    – skv
    Commented Oct 19, 2014 at 4:16
  • $\begingroup$ @skv Is it complex math that you could not reasonably expect the average person to know? If not, then I think it would be on-topic here. $\endgroup$
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ I havent learnt maths beyond high school, so my measure is that do I understand it myself, if you look at that picture, its more about creating the diagram that is tough, once that is done, you need to realise some absolute basics of pythagoras theorem and basic geometry $\endgroup$
    – skv
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 15:35

2 Answers 2


I think that puzzles with strong mathematical content are perfectly on topic. If you look at the puzzle tag on math.stackexchange.com I think many of those would make great questions here. See for example





and so on.

There is a math tag here which can be used if people want to make clear that the puzzle requires mathematical understanding.


Once you get into questioning whether math is acceptable, you also have to consider other prerequisite knowledge such as cryptography and coding. Then there's also physics, grammar, linguistics, etc.

Based on Emrakul's comment on the OP, I'd also be curious what people thought about if we should be trying to make different divisions in stack exchange more mutually exclusive. Following Lembik's reasoning, if many things in math.stackexchange would be "perfectly on topic" here, then can we also say this for language puzzles in English Language & Usage, cryptography puzzles in Cryptography, and EVERYTHING in Programming Puzzles & Code Golf?

The reason for a new division of Stack Exchange should be to isolate a certain type of thinking such as "new puzzle tactics" that DOESN'T belong anywhere else (hence a new division). At least that's what I thought when I joined this community.

Here's an example of a puzzle that wouldn't fit anywhere else yet is about "approaches to puzzle-solving". How many triangles are in the picture?

If a question can only belong in one subdivision of Stack Exchange, doesn't that show "Structural Integrity" of that particular subdivision, and partly to the question itself? I've tried making puzzles that would only fit in the puzzling division, yet many are voted negative because they aren't what people are used to.

In the end, back to OP's question, it's my humble opinion that every field of thinking in life has its "puzzles", that's what it means to be interesting. If puzzling.stackexchange.com is just for "interesting" things, then why not just call it "Best of Stack Exchange" division?

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure whether this is arguing for or against mathematics questions on puzzling.SE. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think you can tackle just mathematics questions. If you get rid of mathematics questions then the same logic can apply for other types of puzzles. My TL;DR is that I think a change needs to be made for the viability of Puzzling SE, although it'll have to be more than just banning math to be fair. $\endgroup$
    – Quark
    Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 18:33

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