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it's being overused.


What? You don't find my title helpful? You had no idea what you were going to read before you opened the question...I see.

This site is getting on the Stack Exchange Hot List a lot lately! I've been clicking over fairly often and finding good stuff to read. I'm also finding quite a bit of this:

My answer is:

the mastofan must have looked for the plumtin on the blask but not seen it there, since you imply that nothing has emergated since the last derotiring.

This is (as I opined more bluntly elsewhere) not a particularly useful post.

Answerers using markup like this have a courteous goal: they want to avoid giving away a puzzle's solution for readers so that those readers can work on it themselves. I do appreciate that, but I think this is entirely the wrong way to go about it.

The thing is, the above isn't any better for me as a reader than this:

The mastofan must have looked for the plumtin on the blask but not seen it there, since you imply that nothing has emergated since the last derotiring.

because I still only have the choice to read all of the answer, or none of the answer.

If it's really considered necessary to use spoiler markup here, it's totally possible -- even easy -- to hide the kernel of the answer but reveal all the surrounding sentence structure so that a reader can follow along. Doing this gives me a very clear idea about what kind of thing is hidden without knowing what that thing is.

The mastofan must have looked for the plumtin

on the blask

but not seen it there, since you imply that nothing has

emergated

since the last

derotering.

Granted, all the linebreaks are a bummer. Inline spoilers would be nice. But a taller answer is still preferable, to my mind, to one that has no visible content.

I'm obviously not a active posting member of this site (goose egg there), but I have become an avid consumer of it. I'm writing from that perspective.

I've suggested a number of edits over the last couple of days to try to help out, and set an example for good spoiler usage. Here's three in particular that I think show well what I'm getting at:

https://puzzling.stackexchange.com/review/suggested-edits/4201
https://puzzling.stackexchange.com/review/suggested-edits/4206
https://puzzling.stackexchange.com/review/suggested-edits/4202

In that last one, the current version of the answer still hides too much information in my opinion. I link it specifically to contrast with what I think would be ideal.

I'd like to propose, though I know there's plenty of other stuff the site is worried about, that in addition to explanations the visible content of an answer be taken into consideration for quality judgement purposes. I'd suggest that this doesn't even require voting, and it is in fact a much easier thing to work on, since it just means active but judicious editing (which even people like me who aren't posing puzzles can help out with).

What do you say? Is this a good standard, and are edits of this nature positive for the site?

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    $\begingroup$ Possibly simply a side effect of all the "solve this puzzle"-type questions. $\endgroup$ – Doorknob Nov 20 '14 at 1:06
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    $\begingroup$ "Are edits of this nature positive for the site?" Yes. I've been approving them all. Please keep up the good work. $\endgroup$ – A E Nov 20 '14 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your encouragement, @AE, but I've had several rejection votes on my suggestions as well, so the opinion is not unanimous. Would you mind making an answer here when you have a chance so we can get this point of view "on record"? $\endgroup$ – Josh Caswell Nov 21 '14 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ If people can break their spoiler content over multiple blocks without giving away the answer--which is harder than I think many people realize--and not have their answer look like a dog's breakfast, more power to them. Personally I see no advantage to this, and the notable drawback that the mouse needs to be moved to several different locations to reveal the various components of the answer. The main grievance in the OP is that a large spoiler block "[is] not a particularly useful post" prior to being revealed. Fine. I agree. But neither is a chunked-up answer with hidden components. $\endgroup$ – COTO Nov 22 '14 at 9:49
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like an argument for eschewing spoiler markup altogether, @COTO, which is what I'd really prefer anyways. The thrust of this post is "If you insist on using this markup, please minimize it." $\endgroup$ – Josh Caswell Nov 22 '14 at 9:51
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    $\begingroup$ @JoshCaswell: The spoiler markup is worth the bit of hassle in my view. I have a large monitor and the answers are invariably front and center on the screen while I'm reading the question. It's nice to be able to read without constantly having to avert one's eyes from the answers. One compromise I can think of is perhaps we could all upvote a request for an "always show spoilers" setting on our SE accounts. People that like spoilers can use them, and people who don't like them can simply toggle the setting. $\endgroup$ – COTO Nov 22 '14 at 9:56
  • $\begingroup$ IMO the examples you've listed are too aggressive with the spoilering. I think xnor's two links demonstrate good spoilering, because each spoiler gives a little more information than the last and you know what you're getting before reading it. With your spoilering, it seems arbitrarily spoilered - not all the "giveaway" information is hidden, but some is. It doesn't feel as consistent. $\endgroup$ – Joe Nov 24 '14 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ Can you point to specific places where important information is given away in the real answers I've suggested edits on, @Joe? $\endgroup$ – Josh Caswell Nov 24 '14 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ Something like this where you don't spoiler the "three colors" (but do spoiler the answer "three"), do spoiler the "one [car]" but then don't spoiler the "two [cars]". If anyone can do basic math they can infer the answer even though the spoiler tag is being used to try to stop that. Contrast with this answer, which clearly all answer-information in the spoilers, but also makes it clear what you'll see if you read each spoiler $\endgroup$ – Joe Nov 25 '14 at 10:30
  • $\begingroup$ The three colors are part of the conditions of the puzzle; that is already public information, @Joe. Likewise the two cars not having a color. See the question. That edit does not reveal anything that's not already known. $\endgroup$ – Josh Caswell Nov 25 '14 at 11:33
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Posts that consist solely in a spoiler block are a fairly new phenomenon: there were only two during the first 5 months of the site, and 175 in the 6th month. That's in addition to a great many posts where the only visible text is “my answer is” or similar filler.

Such answers are useless. The fundamental question of a spoiler block is, do I want to expose it? In order to decide, I need to know what I'm going to find behind the curtain. If you give me no information, it's pretty rude to make me gratuitously go through additional effort to read your post. If I don't want to read any of the answers, I'll simply not read down past the question. If I do want to browse the answer section, there must be some visible mark that distinguishes answer 1

It's a bird!

from answer 2

It's a plane!

Writing as someone who participated early on, didn't really feel deeply involved because I was bored by those interchangeable “brainteaser lateral thinking riddles”, and all of a sudden found that that content had increased more than tenfold… yes, I agree that it's completely ridiculous. Your example is really the minimum that should be given visibly.

These all-spoiler answers are a symptom of the site's biggest problem, which is the all-answers-are-acceptable brainteaser puzzles. (That's a subset of challenge questions: math challenges, for examples, tend to elicit posts with long explanations of which only a small fraction if any is in a spoiler block — perhaps the solution as a spoiler and the detailed proof visible below.) These puzzles have no lasting value: it's all about getting the more juicy answers in, and then you can delete the thread and start again. These threads belong on a forum with expiring posts, not here.

I've taken to leaving the following comment (which I may amend to link to this thread instead) on answers with no useful visible content:

Please do not post an answer where all the content is hidden in spoiler markup. Your answer should make sense and be distinguishable from another answer to a reader who cannot or chooses not to read the spoiler block.

[Please do not post an answer where all the content is hidden in spoiler markup](https://puzzling.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1359/should-and-or-are-top-voted-answers-allowed-to-use-spoiler-tags/1424#1424). Your answer should make sense and be distinguishable from another answer to a reader who cannot or chooses not to read the spoiler block.

Together with a downvote (which I of course revert if the answer is edited and I find out about it), I've had limited success so far: a couple of posters edited their answer and let me know by replying to a comment, most ignored me (and a few went and downvoted my posts for no apparent reasons, not that I didn't expect such dishonesty).

I would like to officialize the sensible policy — in the words of badp

Your answer must make sense without spoiler protected paragraphs. If the spoiler is the whole point of your answer, don't spoiler protect it.

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    $\begingroup$ Yup, I have seen precious few posts on here that are actually better with the spoiler markup. Most of it should be done away with entirely in my view. But the tide seems to be against that idea. I posted in hopes of a reasonable compromise. $\endgroup$ – Josh Caswell Nov 20 '14 at 1:26
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    $\begingroup$ For questions with multiple possible answers, I think spoilers shouldn't be used at all. In this case, people can still come up with their own even if they do read one or two of the existing answers. $\endgroup$ – Joe Z. Nov 20 '14 at 2:13
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    $\begingroup$ Re "the all-answers-are-acceptable brainteaser puzzles", I think it might help if we had a list of "standard loopholes which are no longer funny" in the same way as PPCG does: meta.codegolf.stackexchange.com/questions/1061/… E.g. for lateral thinking problems on this site, a "standard loophole that is no longer funny" could be the 'solution' that the puzzle is taking place on an alien planet where the laws of physics are different, and therefore the answer is (easy thing). $\endgroup$ – A E Nov 20 '14 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ badp's policy is just his own personal policy... Not an official one. $\endgroup$ – QuyNguyen2013 Dec 3 '14 at 2:39
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    $\begingroup$ @QuyNguyen2013 Unfortunately, yes. I propose to make it official. $\endgroup$ – Gilles Dec 3 '14 at 9:44
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I like spoiler blocks. I have a large monitor, I enjoy solving most puzzles instead of simply looking at the answers, and spoiler blocks greatly facilitate my use of the site. I can read through questions without constantly having to avert my eyes from answers (often in boldface) only inches away.

Single spoiler blocks or multiple structured blocks with intermediary text (provided the text doesn't inadvertently give away the answer) are both fine.

Moreover, I don't understand the characterizations of hidden answers as "useless". Move your mouse three quarters of an inch. Answer appears. Click and it locks to visible. On a mobile device, tap on the block. Answer appears and locks to visible. How these trivial inconveniences render an answer "useless" is beyond me. Even scrolling up and down on the page requires more effort. Trying to prevent your mind from processing that The Butler Did It! barely outside your central field of vision while reading three paragraphs of text requires significantly more effort. Honestly, how many people here can claim that they didn't read "the butler did it" above before even getting through the second paragraph?

Typing in spoiler blocks and getting appropriate formatting is a whole different challenge due to SE's bizzare formatting markup, but a single >! suffices for most answers, and posters will typically break up answers into multiple spoilers in the more complex cases.

I'm putting this answer here so that anybody who similarly likes spoiler blocks can upvote it to show their support for the feature.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like spoiler blocks, but I also like the idea of inline spoilers. There have been many times that I want to hide only a part of a sentence and I find the newline mid-sentence to be jarring (as pointed out by the OP). $\endgroup$ – Ian MacDonald Apr 2 '15 at 17:17
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I think that answers should break their spoiler into multiple labelled parts if possible, like my answers here and here. That way, readers can control what they're spoiled on. Someone who just wants a nudge to help them along can look at just an early part and then work the rest out for themselves.

I object to the format given by the OP (Josh Caswell) because the fragments of sentences given outside spoilers are themselves mild spoilers. Someone reading an early spoiler can get inadvertently spoiled seeing a fragment for a later part in cleartext.

(This is all contingent on the community supporting using spoilers in generals. If not, that's fine too, and this answer is moot.)

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    $\begingroup$ I respect your intentions and your opinion. I think we're on the same page as far as identifying the problem, but we definitely disagree as to how much to hide. I understand what you're saying about earlier bits spoiling later bits, but I take the view that the exposed prose serves as as a series of hints for the solution -- and ultimately, I just don't see the point to a Stack Exchange post which hides so much of its content. $\endgroup$ – Josh Caswell Nov 20 '14 at 3:52
  • $\begingroup$ I personally feel this is a better format for answering riddles and puzzles. It allows a user to see not only the thought process taken to solve it, but then lets them work through it on their own. Hints are available for one step, and you can check your working as you go. For a riddle/answer Stack I think this is about as good an answer as you can get. There seems to be some confusion as to whether that's what we're trying to build, though $\endgroup$ – Joe Nov 25 '14 at 10:32
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$\color{black}{\textsf{I hope I’m not}}$ letting the cat out of the bag, $\color{black}{\textsf{but you actually can}}$ display some $\color{black}{\textsf{inline}}$ text in a spoiler block $\color{black}{\textsf{while hiding the rest of it.}}$.

$\color{black}{\textsf{I hope I’m not}}$ letting the cat out of the bag,
$\color{black}{\textsf{but you actually can}}$
display some $\color{black}{\textsf{inline}}$ text
in a spoiler block $\color{black}{\textsf{while hiding the rest of it.}}$.

It works on any site that supports MathJax.  \text{this} gives you $\text{this}$; \textsf{this} gives you $\textsf{this}$ — sans-serif font that, IMHO, clashes less with the normal, non-Math text.

Or, with a bit more work, you can get all the text to look the same:

$\color{black}{\textsf{I hope I’m not}}$ $\textsf{letting the cat out of the bag,}$ $\color{black}{\textsf{but you actually can}}$ $\textsf{display some}$ $\color{black}{\textsf{inline}}$ $\textsf{text in a spoiler block}$ $\color{black}{\textsf{while hiding the rest of it.}}$.

$\color{black}{\textsf{I hope I’m not}}$
$\textsf{letting the cat out of the bag,}$
$\color{black}{\textsf{but you actually can}}$
$\textsf{display some}$ $\color{black}{\textsf{inline}}$
$\textsf{text in a spoiler block}$
$\color{black}{\textsf{while hiding the rest of it.}}$.
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  • $\begingroup$ +1, but this doesn't work on mobile. $\endgroup$ – f'' May 7 '16 at 21:14
  • $\begingroup$ +1, but it's annoying to have to use spoiler blocks. $\endgroup$ – haykam Jul 4 '16 at 1:36
  • $\begingroup$ +1, this is awesome. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Aug 31 '16 at 14:10
  • $\begingroup$ @randal'thor: Thank you, and welcome back. $\endgroup$ – Peregrine Rook Sep 1 '16 at 21:15
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    $\begingroup$ I just discovered that this no longer works.   Oh well; I suppose it was really a bug all along. $\endgroup$ – Peregrine Rook Jan 10 '18 at 17:57

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