A recent question of mine has gotten tons of answers, many if them probably think that they were being creative and thinking outside the box, however I consider them loop holes.

For example:

  • Someone answered using Greek
  • Someone said ULONG_MAX from C (I think it's C)
  • Someone used hexadecimal
  • Last but not least, people were using words that represent numbers, not spelling the number itself

So my question is, should I accept this as how the answers should be like, or should I accept one that answers the question properly? Because like I said, there were MANY "clever" answers.


I think an appropriate concept here is "contra proferentem". Essentially, where there is ambiguity this counts against the author, not the reader.

If you want a unique, "correct" answer, then you must construct your problems such that they each have only one valid answer. This is a significant component of problem setting. There is very little in the world of puzzling as infuriating as wrestling with a problem, finding a perfectly valid solution, and then having it labelled "incorrect".

Let's say I set the crossword clue "disappointed on big day". You might very well get the answer I intend from that. I would go so far as to say that you would probably get the answer I intend. But you could also get a dozen others that I don't intend. If I write "Short detective returns to Jack's partner left at altar, we hear", there are far fewer possibilities*.

Where a problem has multiple solutions, I would suggest that, as a minimum, answers should be rewarded for showing any of the qualities required to obtain the intended answer. Beyond that, I see nothing wrong with rewarding creativity and lateral thinking; many riddles are designed in this way, and if you want a different kind of answer you should construct your problems accordingly.

In general, good problems have solutions that are difficult to guess, but easy to accept; ideally, they are provably correct. For problems with a supposed "correct" answer, solutions should be unique.

(*A thousand honorary upvotes to anyone who gets a valid answer I didn't intend... Edit: I've added an explanation of the intended answer to use as a springboard. Note how all parts of the clue are accounted for in the solution.)

[Short detective] [returns to] [Jack's partner] [left at altar], [we hear]

"Short" could indicate an abbreviation:
[Short detective] ---> [Det.]

Popular nursery rhyme: "Jack and Jill went up the hill..."
[Jack's partner] ---> [Jill]

[returns to] implies a part of the clue running backwards and towards another part of the clue:
[Det.] [returns to] [Jill] ---> [Jill] [ted]
Note: not [ted] [Jill] because the letters "d", "e", "t" run away from [Jill]

[we hear] indicates a sound-alike; if someone says "Jill-ted", [we hear] "jilted"
[Jill] [ted] ---> [jilted]

The above parts of the clue form the indication or wordplay. What remains, [left at altar], is the definition. Both parts point to the same solution, "jilted".

  • $\begingroup$ > Right. Here we go. 'Short detective' sounds like Poirot ("hardly more than 5"4'). Jack's partner sounds like Jill, which fits with 'left at altar' = jilted. 'Returns to' sounds like a cryptic crossword phrase that I'm not familiar with. 'Go back' maybe? Words squished together? So an anagram? I don't get anything as an anagram of 'poirot' with 'jilted', so let's try 'hercule' and 'jilted'. OK this is looking good, "we hear" means it's something you can say, so the answer is: "I rejected Hull". :) $\endgroup$
    – A E
    Nov 10 '14 at 20:06
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    $\begingroup$ @AE Not a bad effort. "Poirot" was my starting point for alternative interpretations as well. But "Jack's partner left at altar" would be "Jill"+"jilted", not just "jilted". "Returns to" has a certain directionality about it that a simple anagram doesn't. I'm sure you could say almost all crossword solutions out loud, so "we hear" doesn't go away that easy. $\endgroup$ Nov 11 '14 at 4:48
  • $\begingroup$ Well thanks. ;) But I'll have to try harder... The shortest detective I can think of is Scrappy Doo (diminutive cousin of Scooby). I did consider Dangermouse but I think he's more of a secret agent than a detective. Now 'Jack', together with 'left at the altar' and 'returns', is an obvious reference to the 1956 film "Sailor Beware!", because sailors were known as 'Jack' (one of them is actually addressed as 'Jack' near the start of the movie, even though that's not his real name). In the movie our hero (a sailor) leaves his bride waiting at the altar ('left at altar') but then relents and... $\endgroup$
    – A E
    Nov 11 '14 at 12:04
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    $\begingroup$ ... marries her after all ('returns'). 'Jack's partner' in the movie is Shirley Hornett, played by Shirley Eaton, whose name is an anagram of 'Tiny Ear Holes' (which fits with 'we hear'). So using the naming convention for Scooby Doo episodes, the answer is: "The Mystery of the Tiny Ear Holes". :) $\endgroup$
    – A E
    Nov 11 '14 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ That was fun. This kind of thing would make a good real question. :) $\endgroup$
    – A E
    Nov 11 '14 at 12:13
  • $\begingroup$ @AE getting closer, but by that reading "Jack's partner" is Shirley Hornett, not Shirley Eaton. A note of caution: I tried to exclude alternate answers. There is no guarantee that a valid one exists... $\endgroup$ Nov 11 '14 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ close enough for me! ;) $\endgroup$
    – A E
    Nov 11 '14 at 14:58
  • $\begingroup$ @AE as long as you had fun :) however the 1000 honorary upvotes remain unclaimed... $\endgroup$ Nov 11 '14 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ @AE, The shortest detective I can think of... there was "Inch High Private Eye" when I was young :P $\endgroup$ Nov 13 '14 at 9:19

I think all the current answers to the question are valid as your question is simply vague.
Judging by the comments you've left on answers, you seem to have wanted people to spell along the lines "six dozen", but the question doesn't explicitly state this.

The confusion could've been avoided either by explaining the question more, showing some sample answers, or both.

  • $\begingroup$ The correct answer as some have stated is five thousand. The bonus (lowest number) is indeed minus forty. I'm wondering if I should accept a "clever" answer or not? $\endgroup$
    – warspyking
    Nov 7 '14 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ I'd say the "clever" answers are as valid as the "correct" answer since the question isn't too clear. $\endgroup$
    – Etheryte
    Nov 7 '14 at 23:38
  • $\begingroup$ Alright, thanks. $\endgroup$
    – warspyking
    Nov 7 '14 at 23:40
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    $\begingroup$ @warspyking You have to be extremely careful when choosing your vocabulary for a word problem. -40 is indeed a lower number, however no number is "smaller" than 0. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Nov 9 '14 at 4:24
  • $\begingroup$ @warspyking - you should probably put your intended Answer in an edit in a spoiler-Tag below your question with a label, for other people who might like the standard-solution, or want to present the riddle to someone else with more careful wording $\endgroup$
    – Falco
    Nov 10 '14 at 12:42

I think you should accept that is the officially "correct" answer.

This is because other people might want to know what the officially correct answer was (like I wanted to know if five thousand was correct), and if you don't mark the officially correct answer as the top answer, visitors to the site will think "Us Gov. Debt" is the official answer to the riddle.

  • $\begingroup$ This is what I think. Accept the answer you think is best - if you really think these are "loopholes", you probably don't think they're the best answers! $\endgroup$ Nov 8 '14 at 1:20
  • $\begingroup$ @EnvisionAndDevelop I agree. Although I personally felt the question was not answerable as presented, if the asker was going for a particular answer and actually got it, I think the asker should accept that answer. The asker can still revise the question to address perceived loopholes. $\endgroup$
    – Muqo
    Nov 8 '14 at 1:47

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