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I'm proposing a custom close reason specific to Puzzling Stack Exchange, that will sound something like:

This question appears to be off-topic because it already exists elsewhere in an identical form, in an easily-accessible way, and already has known helpful solutions. For more info, see [insert helpful links].

My reasoning for this proposal is many-fold, but I'll try to keep this short and to the point. It addresses many of the problems we've encountered all at once. But first, a bit of philosophy:

  1. Questions that exist elsewhere, if they're easily accessible, do not grow or improve the art of puzzle-solving when copied here. Stack Exchange is designed to be a home for expert answers to expert questions. We're not just here to gain internet points for are awesome puzzling skills (or Google-fu, as the case may be). We're here to create a resource for people who are looking to further the art of puzzling as a whole, in any way, shape, or form.

    While these types of questions aren't contraindicated for our success as a question-and-answer site, they certainly aren't constructive toward our ultimate goal, either. Keeping them isn't awful. Redirecting our efforts may be better.

On a more local level:

  1. This is a step in addressing the chestnut problem. What's a chestnut, you ask? It's just one of those puzzles you hear from time to time if you keep your ears open long enough.

    While I highly recommend reading the chestnuts post, it boils down to a couple things. We're likely to stumble across these puzzles anyway over the course of stumbling around the internet/books. We're not here to collect content. We're here to improve on it, and build it up. We're here to advance the art of lateral thinking, and copied content doesn't do that. It just stores it.

  2. Many of these questions are outright plagiarized/dealing with attribution is a pain. Stack Exchange as a whole has a plagiarism policy, which we recently clarified due to some discovered abuse. This is certainly not the most important reason on this list, but it's a factor. If we just close copied questions, checking for attribution becomes less of an issue since the content wouldn't be acceptable here anymore anyway.

  3. They're just all-around low quality questions. If you take a look through our most upvoted questions, very, very few of them are questions that can be found easily elsewhere. Sure, some of them might be linked to other sources or ideas, but most of them are not possible to find in their form as written. In other words: our best content is original.


I've gone on quite long enough. tl;dr: Copied questions don't improve the art of problem solving. We're not here to collect content that can already be easily found. We're not here to store old information. We're here to advance lateral-thinking and the state of puzzles.


Before any change like this can be implemented, community feedback and approval is needed!

So, what are your thoughts, community? Good thing or bad thing?

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  • $\begingroup$ Great thing would there be some sort of vote or up voting this is enough $\endgroup$ – skv Nov 9 '14 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ @skv I'm not sure what you mean? $\endgroup$ – Aza Nov 9 '14 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ About your points 1 and 2, I don't see any posts on the front page that are about the art of puzzling, or anything general about puzzle writing and solving. As far as I can tell, the SE is about playing a game where people pose puzzles and others solve them for fun. As much as I would like to "advance the art", that just doesn't seem to be what the community is here for. $\endgroup$ – xnor Nov 9 '14 at 23:51
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding point 4: Of the 15 highest voted questions, 10 of them are completely unoriginal - they can easily be found on Google. Two of them ("The Sheikh dies", "3 impossibly intelligent mathematicians") are variations of existing puzzles. Only three of them ("A double-agent with a conundrum", "Mysterious Murder Mystery (Very Hard)", "Ernie's automatic parking valet") are truly original puzzles. $\endgroup$ – pacoverflow Nov 10 '14 at 0:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Emrakul I was trying to find if such proposals go through any formal voting (similar to moderator voting) $\endgroup$ – skv Nov 10 '14 at 6:44
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    $\begingroup$ @skv It only goes through if the community generally approves of it, and votes play an important part in that. We won't implement something like this against community consensus. $\endgroup$ – Aza Nov 10 '14 at 7:16
  • $\begingroup$ Ok,thanks. In the hope that this will go through I have already voted for a close using this as the reason, probably we can make it explicit that if it exists on wikipedia with a solution is a good example of being "easily accessible" $\endgroup$ – skv Nov 10 '14 at 12:49
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That close reason doesn't make sense to me. Why would the worth of a question depend on whether it is present in some form on the web? Would you include puzzles only found in a written book in the forbidden category?

If a question is a good question, it doesn't matter that it's been asked before.

If a question is a bad question, well, that is a problem. But I've seen enough attempts at original puzzles here to make me think that they're just as bad as the chestnuts.

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Your post seems to focus on whether the questions are available on other sites, rather than whether the answers are available.

E.g. On Physics.SE if someone asks a question that is already answered simply on wikipedia, the question is closed. However if someone asks a question that has been asked elsewhere but no adequate answer provided, the question will not be closed.

Therefore I propose that puzzles that have been asked and answered elsewhere be closed, but puzzles that have been asked elsewhere but not adequately answered elsewhere be allowed to remain open.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good point. I'll definitely change the wording of the proposed close reason. $\endgroup$ – Aza Nov 9 '14 at 19:04
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As worded, this proposal only applies to questions posted here that have identical wording to another web site. What about rewordings of puzzles that can be found on other web sites? Those may also fit into your points 1 and 2, so should they be closed as well?

I think if a puzzle posted here already exists on another web site, that shouldn't be a reason to close it. I think it's similar to how SE frowns upon posting just a link as an answer. SE recommends citing material from the reference in addition to posting the link, because the link may disappear at some point. Similarly, just because a puzzle can be found on other sites doesn't mean that those sites won't disappear at some point in the future. If the puzzle has been brought over to SE and those other sites vanish, then people will still be able to find the puzzle on SE.

In addition, even though a puzzle may exist on another site, that doesn't mean that new answers can't be discovered. Finding new answers to existing puzzles is a great way of adding value to the site and also growing and improving the art of puzzle solving.

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  • $\begingroup$ But SO would discourage asking a question where the results in google would provide a valid answer $\endgroup$ – skv Nov 11 '14 at 2:57
  • $\begingroup$ @skv That's not always the case. I sometimes see questions that have easily Googleable answers get a lot of upvotes. $\endgroup$ – pacoverflow Nov 11 '14 at 5:32
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I disagree. The point of puzzles is to entertain and engage the solver. The fact that a puzzle has been stated and solved elsewhere does not matter to someone who has not seen it. There are many high-quality puzzles that few people have seen that nevertheless appear solved somewhere on the internet. Such a rule would cut out much more than cliché classics.

(To be clear, I still expect posters to state puzzles themselves rather than copy-pasting from or linking to elsewhere.)

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  • $\begingroup$ This close reason itself may not mean those questions would be closed isnt it, but at the basic level do you agree that "We're not here to collect content. We're here to improve on it, and build it up.", just trying to understand your perspective better $\endgroup$ – skv Nov 10 '14 at 6:49
  • $\begingroup$ @skv I'd say, neither of those, we're mainly here to have enjoy posing and solving puzzles. Actually, what do you mean by improving on content? $\endgroup$ – xnor Nov 10 '14 at 7:03
  • $\begingroup$ Lets say I find a classic puzzle, the Sheik Dies for example, if there could be a variant with other numbers which require another logic to solve, that would be improving on content $\endgroup$ – skv Nov 10 '14 at 7:06
  • $\begingroup$ @skv I guess I prefer novel puzzles to classic ones, if that's what you're asking. I'd generally prefer a wholly original puzzle to a twist on a famous one. But this is the type of thing I expect the community to express individually with votes. $\endgroup$ – xnor Nov 10 '14 at 7:17

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