# 'Lateral Thinking' is a poor excuse for a bad answer

Seriously, people here cannot use the same line "b-but it's lateral thinking" to support their own answers. If your answers makes no frickin' sense literally, see this answer that got plenty of upvotes:

24 upvotes

Some lateral thinking for you:

The woman goes nuts over her problem. She then picks up the nuts and uses them instead of those in the hole.

or see:

82 upvotes

The man was suffering from Transient Global Amnesia, a condition which is marked by memory loss caused by extremes of blood pressure. He was already aware that he was bankrupt but the exertion of pushing his car caused him to lose his memory. When he finally arrived at the hotel, the decline in blood pressure caused his memory to return.

Lateral thinking should not be an excuse for a poor answer which makes no sense, and yet the same excuses are being made, the same answers are being made.

WE need unified support as to what to do regarding these "lateral thinking" answers.

• It's good to bring up problems on meta, but what's the point you're trying to make? Also, we already have a few other posts on this very tag. Nov 21 '14 at 3:38
• That we need to take action. People have been saying the same thing for weeks "Just downvote and flag, and the system will handle the rest". Yeah right, just look at the quality of that answer and tell me if you think the system "really handled it well". Nov 21 '14 at 3:39
• Getting better - do you have anything in mind (e.g. abolish lateral-thinking, or whatever)? I'm not sure saying that we need to act without proposing any ideas will work. Nov 21 '14 at 3:44
• I blame the questions. It's not the answerer's fault when the intended answer is just as "lateral" as theirs, except it's accepted for being the conventional answer.
– xnor
Nov 21 '14 at 3:54
• @xnor Well, one could argue in favour of canonical puzzles in general, but that should then be either specified in the site's policy or the question itself. Nov 21 '14 at 5:30
• That's a fairly isoloted example. The activity has been quite good lately. Nov 21 '14 at 5:31
• Please, please participate, I am sure you can come up with a fine question that can serve as an example, and then you will have enough reputation to participate with downvotes
– skv
Nov 21 '14 at 14:37
• @d'alar'cop If you want, I can provide you with even more lateral-thinking puzzle answers that received tremendous amounts of upvotes. Nov 21 '14 at 16:41
• I think that 2nd one IS better than they accepted... Nov 21 '14 at 21:01
• It seems to me poor questions are more - for lack of a better term - damaging than off-the-wall answers. If an answer really bothers you so much but is still a possible correct solution and also has a significant positive net number of votes, does that not suggest the users' collectively deciding to accept it essentially makes it a "good" answer by that very virtue? Shall a rule be made to prohibit answers which are too creative? Personally, an answer that makes me think, especially in unconventional ways, can occasionally surpass the original question's novelty and value. Dec 1 '14 at 2:48

## 4 Answers

Even if we decide to allow brainteaser/lateral-thinking puzzles, some loopholes just aren't funny.

Answers that deliberately break the genre, as opposed to exploiting inherent ambiguities, should be summarily deleted. Sometimes these answers receive a lot of upvotes and only a small number of users correctly downvote them for being wrong, so we need a site policy to allow moderators to delete them nonetheless. This is a prime example — it's fundamentally a geometry puzzle, but:

• The top-voted answer (as do others) exploits a mistake in the original question, which forgot to state an assumption — ok, that's fair, but not helpful to visitors now.
• The second-scoring answer is simply wrong. A line in mathematics has zero thickness. Lateral thinking shouldn't excuse being wrong, yet this answer has 56 upvotes.
• The third-scoring answer doesn't contradict the explicit statements in the question, but it relies on a far-fetched assumption for which the question provides no basis whatsoever.

By score, the first correct answer comes fourth! Fortunately it's accepted. Another example: in a situation puzzle like https://puzzling.stackexchange.com/questions/4939/problem-in-the-middle-of-desert/4970, an answer like “the woman goes nut” is based on a pun; this similarly breaks the genre and should be summarily deleted.

Basically, answers are supposed to answer the question. They aren't for side jokes or for answering what the question might have been in a different universe.

• "Sometimes these answers receive a lot of upvotes...": Hi Gilles, lately we have started downvoting and deleting in a more healthy fashion (especially given the many concerns raised in meta) - we are getting better at self-moderating. "for answering what the question might have been in a different universe": Sarah Palin in a parallel universe...? :p Nov 22 '14 at 1:24

I propose simply banning the lateral-thinking category of question and burninating the tag. Puzzles that don't have a clear best answer are a poor fit for the Stack Exchange format. They invite pages upon pages of creative answers which are often just as valid as the "correct" answer. The entire point of lateral-thinking is to think of unconventional answers and strange interpretations of the question, so there's no way to call an answer wrong.

Edit: I want to remind you that lateral thinking questions already run afoul of the existing close reason:

"This question may invite speculative answers, as the question is not fully defined. The validity of some answers may be based upon opinion. Good questions for this site have a limited number of objectively correct answers. See also: Why are questions off-topic if they invite answers which are not demonstrably correct, or are otherwise speculative?"

This isn't as much suggesting new policy as enforcing existing policy.

• Sounds like code-trolling, eh... Nov 21 '14 at 4:02
• Is this sufficient agreement for a mod to carry this out? The post is at +10/-2 as of this comment.
– xnor
Nov 22 '14 at 1:44
• @xnor Don't be ridiculous. You seriously think that because 10 out of over 3600 users agree with you that makes you right and justifies completely banning an entire class of questions? Nov 22 '14 at 1:56
• @EsotericScreenName If we required those 3600 users to endorse every decision, nothing would ever happen. Also, existing policy already says these questions are off-topic.
– xnor
Nov 22 '14 at 2:00
• @EsotericScreenName See this question. Nov 22 '14 at 6:58
• @xnor Nice straw men. I didn't say we should ask every user, I said you're being ridiculous by claiming a few upvotes on this post constitutes community consensus and/or justification for banning an entire class of questions. Existing policy doesn't say all lateral thinking questions are off topic, it says that ill defined questions are off topic. Yes, it's easy to make an ill defined lateral thinking question, but that doesn't mean that such questions are inherently and necessarily ill defined. Nov 22 '14 at 14:01

We each judge questions and answers by the level of quality we perceive them to be and consequently down-vote questions and answers of low quality and up-vote questions and answers of high quality.

If questions that you feel are of low quality appear to have a large number of up-votes, then it shows that your views do not align with the views of the community. Don't take this to heart, because you can't always expect to have the view of the majority. But overall we should respect the direction the community wishes to take.

• This Mew -> Gilles thing is confusing! I was baffled at Gilles' sudden change of opinion until I remembered.
– xnor
Nov 21 '14 at 4:01
• Impersonating a user is a serious offense. Nov 21 '14 at 5:08
• @thinlyveiledquestionmark, this has been discussed in chat, I am not impersonating another user - my name is Gilles and I decided my previous name was not suitable. The fact another user has the same name is not a problem and we have separate display pictures to distinguish us. Nov 21 '14 at 5:12
• and he just happens to look like putin :) Nov 21 '14 at 5:33
• @thinlyveiledquestionmark Impersonating is a serious offense. There are precedents; merely taking someone's name is not in itself an offense, but it is treading a thin line. Mew, given that you have deliberately changed your name to be exactly the same as another regular's, the onus is on you to make it clear who is who, especially in comment discussions. Nov 21 '14 at 12:22
• @Gilles, the onus is not on me and I feel no need to make it clear every post who I am. My name is Gilles and I have every right to this name as you do. I looked at the Meta posts that address this issue, and the consensus is (1) it shouldn't matter who the person is, but rather what is said , and (2) it doesn't matter because a user can click on the profile and easily work out who is who. Nov 21 '14 at 12:24
• Now regarding the issue at hand: I agree with the first paragraph, but not with the first paragraph. The scoe is not the sole indicator of whether a post is acceptable. A question can have a lot of upvotes and be closed and deleted because it is judged unsuitable. An answer can have a lot of upvotes and be deleted because it doesn't answer the question. Taking action in such cases is explicitly part of the role of moderators — to act as exception handlers, to enforce community norms when the community isn't enforcing them. Nov 21 '14 at 12:26
• @Gilles, agreed but is thinly veiled question mark addressing the community here or the moderators? If he has a request for the moderators he should be more explicit in his question that appears to address the community. Nov 21 '14 at 12:31
• If I wanted to address moderators, I would have mentioned them, but if you read my question, I ask the "community" to take a stance. So I'm not opening this question just for a select few, rather anyone on meta can pitch in an opinion of theirs. Nov 22 '14 at 0:16

For reference, this is the same issue we've been talking about now for a while (which is heavily influenced by our presense on HNQ).

I actually think this might be a step in the right direction - ie I support this proposal of "banning the lateral-thinking category of question and burninating the tag".

Bad lateral thinking puzzles always suffer from this ridiculousness and good lateral thinking puzzles can be tagged 'logic-puzzles'.

Oh by the way, your last exemplary puzzle question/answer was great!

• In spite of this response I also support Gilles-Putin's take on the matter. Nov 21 '14 at 5:55