While it is somewhat out of form to edit a question with these kinds of notes, this is designed to clear up potential confusion.
status-declined's tag wiki reads:
Indicates that a request (usually a feature request) has been considered, but will not be implemented. Generally speaking... / ...the community will come to consensus that the request is unnecessary.
This is what has happened here.
There have been countless questions recently that don't live up to Stack Exchange's quality standards. We have a responsibility as members of the Stack Exchange network site to live up to the quality standards SE expects. We need to do something to fix our question quality. This is that something.
What is Stack Exchange for, and why are we here?
Stack Exchange is a site for "Expert Answers to Expert Questions." It is a resource people go to in order to find answers to real questions that they face. Our primary purpose for being here is not to have fun playing games and solving puzzles with each other; it is to create an expert knowledge-base about puzzles and puzzle-related questions. We are here to expand the ability of the internet to address questions related to puzzles and the art of problem solving. Whatever our site policies are, they need to help facilitate this ultimate purpose. If you disagree with this, then Stack Exchange is not for you. These are not our philosophies, they are our content host's philosophies. We abide by them. All SE network sites must fulfill this purpose, otherwise the site will cease to be.
What does PPCG mean for Puzzling.SE? The answer to this question is pretty simple: absolutely nothing. We cannot and should not model ourselves after PPCG. PPCG is a massive exception to the Stack Exchange philosophy, and becoming a copy of PPCG for puzzles simply isn't an option. Structuring arguments around "that's what PPCG does" is fruitless, because we cannot and will not be them.
In one of the blog posts of yore, there were listed three rough criteria for question quality:
- Works with the Stack Exchange philosophy
- Is accepted by the community
- Teaches you something that makes you better at puzzling
Questions should aim to fulfill all three of these criteria. Questions that don't are problems.
Oh, and a small foreword: the Area 51 stats are not that important in determining the overall health of a site. Let's stop using them as a justification for saying everything is alright and we don't need to change. It's not going to get us anywhere besides closure.
Questions that are simply challenges have a LOT of issues
We will list the major ones briefly here. These are broad, general categories which do not necessarily apply to each challenge question, but are all grossly prevalent.
Stack Exchange is intended to make the internet a better place, by acting as a repository of useful and relevant information, and by being a resource for those who wish to learn. This is not something challenge questions accomplish. Puzzles-as-challenges don't accomplish or in any way assist the ultimate goal of creating good, lasting, searchable information. We want people to come to this site for information, and we want to help understand concepts and ideas in puzzling.
These questions don't assist this goal. Even new users who read a challenge question aren't really helped by it if they can't solve it themselves.
Challenge questions invite lateral thinking answers. Contrary to what some might say, this is a problem. These answers are fun, but provide no lasting value and are designed solely to work around the question at hand. The community seems to support them, but that doesn't make them good. They're just silly for poking holes in a question where clearly holes were not intended to be poked.
Challenge questions result in many subjectively-correct answers. Okay, sometimes they don't, but almost always they do. Answers that are subjectively-correct aren't helpful, because the OP has to come back to the question and say "this is the answer I was thinking of." Ultimately, nobody has learned anything, and we haven't gained useful answers - only things the OP didn't happen to think of.
Even if the answers are right, they're all still just guesses. They can rarely, if ever, be more than just guesses.
Challenge questions are either unsearchable, or rehash the internet. If a challenge question is original, it is unsearchable. Nobody will ever find it; it has no lasting value, and it is highly likely that because the OP already knew the answer, nothing was learned. If a challenge question isn't original, it's already out there on the internet, and there's no point in rehashing it here.
Challenge questions consistently have terrible, terrible titles. Titles are used everywhere on the Stack Exchange network to determine what the content of a question is. Search engine optimization is performed on question titles. It's come up before that questions that are puzzles can't have descriptive titles, and this is a serious issue. Our titles must be descriptive of the contents of the questions. This isn't a choice we can bypass - it's a quality requirement. If we can't accomplish this goal, there is a serious problem.
Our site is supposed to be primarily about useful, secondarily about searchable information.
It's not possible to judge the quality of challenge questions without knowing their answers. We need to be able to determine if a question is of good quality or is on-topic without knowing what the answer is. We need to know whether we should downvote, vote to close, etc. without waiting for an answer to be posted, because this entirely defeats the purpose of these moderation tools.
Voting and close votes, the two primary tools, are used to serve as an indicator of whether a question is on-topic here and whether it is worth answering for other people. If a question has to be answered for us to know, it completely defeats the purpose of these tools.
What do we do about challenge questions?
Don't get me wrong, some challenge questions can be good. It's not as though every single challenge question is bad, but there are so many problems with them that keeping them around is unsustainable. They don't fit within the core purpose of Stack Exchange. They serve nothing but our own enjoyment and have no or little lasting value.
It's time for us to restrict them. We propose the following close reason:
This question appears to be off-topic because it contains nothing more than a puzzle asked as a challenge to the community. If you are confused about the solution to a puzzle, feel free to edit your question to highlight exactly what you need or where you're confused. Please see [this meta discussion](link to this post) for more details.
What this close reason is intended to keep:
Questions asking for help designing a puzzle
I have designed the following puzzle/riddle, and it has the following solution. How can I improve it/make it more solid and consistent?
Questions asking about confusing steps in puzzles, or genuinely asking for help solving one.
I have come across the following puzzle. I've made an attempt to solve it, and this is what I've done. Now, I'm stuck. I can't figure out how to solve this specific part. Where do I go from here?
Questions about puzzle theory.
What determines which positions are invalid on this puzzle?
What this close reason is intended to discard:
- Questions that contain nothing but a puzzle
- Questions that are posed as challenges to the community
Questions not asking for input on the puzzle, guidance on how to continue, or some other puzzle-related topic.
Sally has four apples. She eats three and gives away one. What is the mass of the sun?
How do we turn challenge questions into real questions?
I'll be honest, most of the time this isn't going to be possible to do. The reason is pretty simple: in order to go from a challenge question into a real question, the OP must have faced some problem or have some difficulty. Questions that are already answered will be hard to edit without deprecating existing answers, and that's a problem.
However, where possible, it's pretty easy to turn a challenge question into a good one. You can possibly edit it so it's asking for feedback on how to improve the question, or you can edit it so that it's otherwise not strictly a challenge question. Like we say, most of the time, this will be tricky. However, if you can find a good way to edit a question such that it fits the Stack Exchange format, you are absolutely encouraged to edit it.
If a question can't be edited, or you don't want to be the one to edit it, put it on hold.
But challenge questions are fun!
We're not here to have fun. We're here to learn, and develop/enhance the art of puzzling. You can still pose these questions in chat.
Lots of fun questions have been disallowed across the Stack Exchange network before. This doesn't mean these questions are always of low value, but it occurred because they typically are. For instance, Stack Overflow used to allow polling questions, along the lines of "Strangest language feature". These questions might sometimes be okay, but we're not here to have fun. We're here to make the internet - and ourselves - better.
But we'll lose much of our userbase/the site will be unsustainable without them!
Challenge questions do drive a slew of traffic - almost too much for our site to handle. Traffic isn't the goal of our site. Neither is the Area 51 scorecard.
What we're looking to build is a community of experts. We want people with the knowledge and experience to develop the art of puzzle solving, and we want people who will be willing to learn. If our traffic has to drop off before we can grow back to critical mass again, that's perfectly fine. It's much better than the alternative. It's much healthier than the alternative.
Besides, we had these questions aplenty back in the site's history. We can get there again, and we're confident it will happen.
I'm sorry. Read this post. It's important. Be the informed voter you were meant to be.
We will pre-empt the following riposte, though: "I like these questions" isn't a valid response to the arguments in here. The arguments in this question have nothing to do with whether people like these questions, and everything to do with whether they're even on-topic here in the first place.
We're looking forward to the community's feedback.