What do we do with questions from on-going contests? For example, this question is a 2014-15 USAMTS Round 3 problem. Should they be flagged for moderator attention?

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    $\begingroup$ Due to the time-sensitive nature of this topic, I'll be applying the math policy to the question linked here until a consensus is reached by the community. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    Dec 15, 2014 at 5:54
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your action and your edit to the question. $\endgroup$
    – JRN
    Dec 15, 2014 at 6:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If it's posted without acknowledging the source then it's simply plagiarism, and we already know what to do about that. $\endgroup$
    – A E
    Dec 15, 2014 at 10:01

3 Answers 3


I propose we take Math's policy on contest questions:

Why do we have a policy?

First and foremost: we believe that the responsibility for the integrity of an exam, contest, competition, etc. ultimately falls on the shoulders of the organizers.

That said, the Mathematics Stack Exchange community is not an island unto itself: rather we exist within a larger macrocosm of people who do or are interested by mathematics. So in the occasion when our purpose (essentially: providing mathematical answers to mathematical problems) butts against that of others, it helps to draw some reasonable boundary to play nice with other members of the larger community. In short, we want this community to have a reputation as a Good Citizen.

What is a contest question?

For the purpose of this discussion, a contest question refers to a question that is

  1. originally published by a third party, for the purpose of inviting submission of solutions: this could be an actual competition where a prize of some sort is given, or this could be a qualifying examination.
  2. publicly available: the questions themselves should be publicly available.
  3. time-limited: the "contest" should be active for a fixed, finite duration of time, with a definite start and end date. Before the end date of the contest, the contest is said to be "on-going"; after the end date the contest is said to have "finished" or "expired."

Note a couple caveats:

  • If the question is not original (for example, if the math.SE question was asked before the start of the contest), then we do not consider it as a contest question. This is to prevent ex post facto stifling of discussion.
  • If the "contest" has no definite duration, then we do not consider questions on it as contest questions for this discussion. This is to prevent indefinite lock-down of information.

How we deal with on-going contest questions?

First, moderators will not actively patrol for contest questions.

However, if the moderator team is made aware that a question posted to the Mathematics Stack Exchange is from an on-going contest:

  • We will lock the question until after the end date of the contest. Note that due to granularity in the locking system the expiration of the lock may not coincide exactly after the expiration of the contest; if you see a contest problem locked past the contest end date, feel free to raise a flag and let the moderators know.
  • We will soft delete all answers on the question; they will be restored after the contest finished. (Again, if you are a 10K user and see deleted answers to an expired contest problem, please raise a flag.)
  • We will, in the case not already present, provide links to the contest and its duration in the comments so the status of the contest can be easily verified.

I see a question that I know is from a contest, what do I do?

Let the moderators know. This can be done in multiple ways (I list here in order of speed of handling):

Please include:

  • Publicly accessible source where we can verify that the question does come from a contest.
  • Publicly accessible source where we can verify that the contest is currently on-going.

It will also help if you post a comment indicating also the above information to make the community as a whole aware of the situation.

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    $\begingroup$ As a moderator on Mathematics, I just want to point out that our policy emerged largely because a fairly significant proportion of our active user base is directly connected to the broader mathematics community; this is one way for us to act as "good citizens" within this larger community. I don't expect that a similar percentage of the active user base here to have as close a connection to that community, nor to have similar qualms. As such, I am pretty much fine with whatever decisions are made by this community as it pertains this matter. (But discussion of it is also good.) $\endgroup$
    – user251
    Dec 15, 2014 at 8:11
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you @Arthur. I'm certain I'm not the only one here who does have similar qualms. $\endgroup$
    – A E
    Dec 15, 2014 at 10:03
  • $\begingroup$ @ArthurFischer Please do not use the term “good citizens” here. I, for one, consider it unethical to censor scientific questions on the basis that someone else is using it in a contest somewhere. I'm less against such a policy on Puzzling — I wouldn't budge to enforce it, but I won't actively defend freedom of speech here. $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2014 at 12:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Gilles: I hope you have read our policy, but in case you haven't it can basically be summed up in four words: not here, not now. To equate a group of people deciding that their community shouldn't providing answers to ongoing contests (though, if you want, please come back after it's finished) with censorship is a tad on the extreme side. Our policy doesn't extend to Quora, or Yahoo Answers, or Ask Dr. Math, or AoPS, or sci.math, or anyone's personal blog, to name a few. $\endgroup$
    – user251
    Dec 15, 2014 at 15:39
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    $\begingroup$ As someone who just had a question locked in a contest that actively invites community solving I'm against this policy. It's not explicitly mentioned on the new question page and buried fairly deeply in the help center. If you really want to enforce this, make it much more obvious when creating new questions - but it makes this community feel immediately unfriendly and over moderated to me. $\endgroup$ Mar 11, 2018 at 7:23

I can agree with the policy above albeit it might be difficult to "police" this really. However, isn't posting a question from a contest already defying existing copyright policy and can be acted upon using that?

If a puzzle from a running contest is posted without providing the source it is violating policy.

If it is posted with a link and a statement that it is part of a contest, I would not necessarily stop it from being asked - after all one can as well "ask for help" on a contest outside the internet. It should be up to the people asking/answering to decide on the ethnics of using the site like this. And, having the puzzle posted here leaves a very clear track record for anyone on the challenge-site. It should be up to "them" that any community-solving effort is outside the challenge-rules.

"Fairness" of challenges over the open internet is hardly possible to be ensured in any way. (Some have ultra-fast PCs and brute-force methods, others have their own email- or real-life community to rely on etc. etc.) So is re-asking on any public internet site worse? If anything, it is more fair - as it is public - as long as it is clearly stated that this question is part of a running challenge with given reference.

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    $\begingroup$ The track record isn't at clear as you think: a "sensible" cheater will delete their question once they have an answer. $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2014 at 10:41
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterTaylor Yes, but if it was declared a contest question with link, a lot of people - at minimum the answer givers - will know about it and properly take action if the question gets "deleted". One way or another, the poster would face "consequences" in either or both communities, which is what the only real deterrent can be about. I think the copy-right requirement/policy is the important one here. $\endgroup$
    – BmyGuest
    Dec 15, 2014 at 10:46
  • $\begingroup$ Have you ever tried to find a deleted question to which you had posted an answer? Unless you copied the URL and saved it somewhere, I think it's impossible for non-moderator users even with every rep-based privilege. $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2014 at 10:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Peter Not with recursion it wouldn't be. Recurse through questions and find a deleted one with JS. Heck, make a chrome extension to display them! XD $\endgroup$
    – warspyking
    Dec 15, 2014 at 13:11

For contests such as this one - where there is an explicit or implicit 'honour code' and the answers are expected to be the contestant's own work - I think the Math.SE policy is very sensible, and we should definitely adopt it.

But for some other kinds of puzzling competitions - Cicada 3301 for example - there is no such expectation.

So while I think that we should apply the Math.SE policy to competitions such as USAMTS, I think we need to be careful not to blindly apply it to other competitions where group problem-solving and internet collaboration is within scope - in other words, we should in future be prepared to make exceptions for such competitions.


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