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
- 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.
- publicly available: the questions themselves should be publicly available.
- 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):
- Flagging the question for moderator attention.
- E-mailing one of the moderators (some of us have e-mail addresses publicly viewable).
- Use the contact form and ask the message be forwarded to the moderators.
- 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.
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.
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.