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It is really a shame that this question was still not properly settled.

  • Are puzzles on-topic?
  • Are riddles on-topic?
  • Even if they are on-topic, are they welcome or just tolerated?
  • If they are not on-topic, why?

This comment from Jan Dvorak clearly shows that the on-topicness is still unclear and debated at best:

meta.puzzling.stackexchange.com/questions/1584/… - riddles are no longer on-topic for this site. An objective answer is required. – Jan Dvorak Dec 12 at 17:29

Note: Jan Dvorak's comment was deleted some time after I posted this question, so the link now actually just go to the question.

Doorknob had asked for feedback on this question. The post was focused on question quality, and not about things being or not on-topic. But what motivated it was the question where puzzles were "suggested" to be off-topic.

I posted an answer, trying to answer everything that Doorknob asked, and no moderator came back to make any reply to that answer.

A E also posted an answer and BmyGuest posted three answers. The only comment from a moderator to any answer was this from Emrakul to the third answer from BmyGuest:

Please, please keep voting to close questions. Let people know in comments that their question can be improved, and they will. I've seen it happen dozens of times over. – Emrakul♦ Dec 11 at 21:44

I sincerely expected more comments from moderators on the given answers.

In the question itself, the moderators only posted two comments to answer things that are not really the point of the question.

This is the first comment:

How do we know if a question is a good one before it has been answered? We look at the other questions by the user. People are fairly consistent in their quality most of the time. For new users, either add additional rules in place that only apply till a user's first well received question or be lenient till we know if they're any good. – Travis Kindred Dec 8 at 14:11

@TravisKindred Please don't do that. Posts should be voted on (and moderated) by their own quality, not by the user. – Doorknob 冰♦ Dec 8 at 14:48

I.E. This is about voting on question. And although this is important, it is not about writing questions better, which is the main focus there.

This is the second comment:

Do you have a reference for "an interesting analogy was brought up in the discussion: lateral-thinking et. al. is to Puzzling as code-trolling is (was) to PPCG"? I'm wondering whether you're half-remembering a comment I made on the PPCG chat three weeks ago or whether it's in reference to something else. (And who's the "we" in "we originally thought it was a good idea"?) – Peter Taylor Dec 9 at 15:59

@Peter The source of that analogy was me, in a moderator chatroom. (I believe the 'we' refers to the Code Golf community as a whole.) – Emrakul♦ Dec 10 at 9:12

This is about PPCG, and completely irrelevant to puzzling.

So what happened is that the moderators asked for feedback and then did not said any further word about that, for whatever reason. And the on-topicness or not (and welcomeness) of puzzles and riddles are still undefined.

I already presented this problem very directly as part of my answer:

Back to Area 51

The proposal at the Area 51 still stands. Why? Because we still don't know what would or not be on-topic here! I still did not found an unambiguous, clear and direct official statement that puzzle challenges are welcome and that riddles challenges are equally welcome. When we get a firm and definitive position in favor of that, I am sure that everybody would be pleased to abandon the proposal. If we get it to the opposite, everybody would be sure that the way is to work to make it reach the commitment phase and then beta.

So, we came back to this:

  • Are puzzles on-topic?
  • Are riddles on-topic?
  • Even if they are on-topic, are they welcome or just tolerated?
  • If they are not on-topic, why?

Whether the decision comes from the mods or the community, we need a clear decision before all the site users leave the site (e.g. to go back to area 51 or somewhere else). Finally, although this question ended with a "no" from most (but not all) of the community, the question about on-topicness and "welcomeness" of puzzles and riddles remains unsolved. Particularly, what is the position of the moderators about that? And about the rest of the community?

As @rand al'thor said in a comment to this very question, a lot of people are too scared to participate because they've seen your big meta decree without any clear retraction.

Here is a proof of that:

Ok, I see the problem now and feel sorry about this decision taken by the moderators. Maybe this last riddle from me was a propper way to say goodbye to you guys :) I really enjoyed riddling with you! Thanks for the lovely time and poke me if the moderators change their mind, would you? – zlobi.wan.kenobi 6 hours ago

Particularly, riddles are getting close-votes as off-topic as this one and this other one.

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    $\begingroup$ This should really be 'featured', but only moderators can add that tag... $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Dec 15 '14 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ I'm guessing that moderators have been holding back from giving their answer because they wanted the community to give its answer(s), which is commendable. $\endgroup$ – A E Dec 15 '14 at 18:03
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    $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that the reason we felt the need to step in at all is because the community wasn't holding the (read: any) discussion. Now that the community is doing it, we're free to step back and let y'all do your thing. $\endgroup$ – Aza Dec 15 '14 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ @AE Yes, that might be the reason. But I agree with Victor that it's time to "wrap up". There are a hand full of "puzzlers" which have repeatedly spoken up (and are hence very strongly represented in the postings), but that does not mean the majority of the users agree. So it is still unfinished business now... $\endgroup$ – BmyGuest Dec 15 '14 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ @AE I edited the question and added a new paragraph in the end. $\endgroup$ – Victor Stafusa Dec 15 '14 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Emrakul - But a lot of people are too scared to participate because they've seen your big meta decree without any clear retraction. Look at the comment by Jan Dvorak linked by the OP. There's a lot of misapprehension going around, and we need some kind of clear statement as to where we stand. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Dec 15 '14 at 18:21
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    $\begingroup$ @rand Do you have any references for "too scared to participate" and "a lot of misapprehension going around"? Every single post I've seen since the meta post has been a puzzle/challenge. Besides, Dvorak didn't even link to that post - they linked to a totally different one. $\endgroup$ – Aza Dec 15 '14 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ Concerning Jan's comment, I think it's pretty telling that the question on which he was commenting garnered only 1 close vote (presumably Jan's). So ipso facto we're allowing the question. $\endgroup$ – A E Dec 15 '14 at 18:25
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    $\begingroup$ Almost every single post in the weeks before the meta post was a puzzle, and there were a lot more of them then. Activity has plummeted. I will try to gather more references though. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Dec 15 '14 at 18:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Emrakul I edited the question to add a proof that people are scared. At least zlobi.wan.kenobi was. $\endgroup$ – Victor Stafusa Dec 15 '14 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ @randal'thor is correct, activity has definitely dropped. It seems to be part of a wider trend though.... I'm sure I've seen a graph of questions/day, trying to find it now. It showed a pretty constant rate of fall since the 'spaghetti high', IIRC. $\endgroup$ – A E Dec 15 '14 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, traffic dropping isn't directly a consequence of that post. It was falling long before that - most of our traffic was driven by HNQ, and that's tapered a bit. Additionally, that user was linked to the meta post, and was promptly corrected on the issue by the person who linked them to it. I don't see an issue in that example. $\endgroup$ – Aza Dec 15 '14 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ Graph showing questions/day on Puzzling.SE, plotted against time $\endgroup$ – A E Dec 15 '14 at 19:53
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    $\begingroup$ I'm confused as to why riddles keep being singled out in these discussions. Is "riddle" just a proxy for "challenge question that requires interpretation" or "challenge that doesn't have a rigorous formulation"? I think riddles in the traditional sense (poems or styled prose that indirectly describes at a thing) are showing to be on the higher-quality end of that category. $\endgroup$ – xnor Dec 15 '14 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ Victor my answer has been edited and is now finished if you want to take a look. $\endgroup$ – warspyking Dec 16 '14 at 3:13
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I agree that we should get a definitive status. There was (and probably still is) also discrepancy whether or not such a status is/should be achieved by majority vote, but I think it does not hurt to gauge the participating members at this state. So, instead of writing long answers, my answer here is to vote.


UP-Vote: I agree with the statement: "Puzzles AND Riddles are welcomed on this site."

DOWN-Vote: I do not agree with the statement: "Puzzles AND Riddles are welcomed on this site."

If you are somewhere in between this don't vote on this answer. Write your own proposal to vote for.

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    $\begingroup$ Polling generally isn't a good way to go about deciding consensus. Would it be possible to edit this into a structured argument for or against puzzles? $\endgroup$ – Aza Dec 15 '14 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ @Emrakul I agree about polling being a weak form of consensus, but only adding argument after argument doesn't bring us forward neither. We have a lot of those threads already (all nicely linked by Victor) and I have made my statement clear (and am still open for discussing it!) But if we want to come to a 'conclusion' of any form which will make it into the wiki or site-policy, we need to do at least a poll every now and so often. At a poll, every user has ONCE count. In a discussion of posts only, the most active write gets the most 'space'... $\endgroup$ – BmyGuest Dec 15 '14 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Emrakul This does not imply, that the vote seals the decision. It is a tool to gauge what the majority favours. $\endgroup$ – BmyGuest Dec 15 '14 at 18:21
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I'm personally content with challenges on Puzzling, for a multitude of reasons which I'll list briefly here.

  • Question and answer quality on the main site are up significantly.
  • People are downvoting questions and closing questions, which wasn't happening before.
  • Meta discussion on quality is up, and maintained, which is critical to developing a good sense of what fits here.
  • And perhaps the most obvious reason (so much so that I almost overlooked it): the community clearly wants it.

In short, site health is up dramatically. To me, it's clear that we're okay with challenges, and people are finding ways to determine what is and isn't good quality. I'd say we're in a good place right now, with challenges, so I'm personally content with them on the site and see no obvious reason to disallow them in our current state of affairs.


There's an important point that I feel has been somewhat left out of the discussion. Moderators generally don't set policy unilaterally. You all are the community, and you all are here. You get to propose, vote on, and decide site policy. We're just here to help enforce it.


One other thing: don't worry too much about site traffic right now, at least for its own sake. We aren't at the point where we can drive our own traffic, which means that traffic is going to fluctuate heavily. We were also way above a sustainable point of traffic, so to see it fall doesn't really surprise me in the least.

We'll be alright. Like I say, don't worry too much about it for its own sake. If you have concerns in this regard that go beyond the scope of this question, I'd suggest asking a new one specifically about site traffic.

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    $\begingroup$ "People are downvoting questions and closing questions, which wasn't happening before." - Hmm, this can only be good if people do it with fairness, and this seems to not be the case sometimes. Further, we have many cases where close-votes and downvotes pops randomly with no explanation nor any sort of feedback from where people can learn or at least argue about. $\endgroup$ – Victor Stafusa Dec 16 '14 at 1:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Victor So we have to work on it. But I think Emrakul's statement was more towards: people started using the vote system more critically instead of a simple like/dislike feature of the content - at least regulars have and they start leading by example. $\endgroup$ – BmyGuest Dec 16 '14 at 6:11
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Are puzzles on-topic?

Based on Robert Cartaino's post, I think puzzle challenges are on-topic. While he never explicitly said that puzzle challenges are on-topic, he did write:

But coming in over 1,000 questions later, throwing away 90% of your content is just not practical… or community-friendly. A Puzzling site that doesn't allow puzzling is ostensibly shutting down this site as it exists today. One thing is pretty clear to me — it is going to to be borderline impossible to get critical mass on a puzzling site where you can't even share individual puzzles.

He doesn't think that 90% of the content (which are challenges) should be thrown away. If he thought that challenges are off-topic, then I don't think he'd care if they were thrown away. He also says that without challenges, we won't be able to get critical mass. These comments strongly imply that challenges should be on-topic.

He also wrote the following:

But we're not going to create a "Code Golf" counterpart to Puzzling SE.

Regardless of what sort of proposals are in Area 51, the community management is not going to approve any proposed site just for challenges. Puzzle challenges will stay here (or they won't be on-topic anywhere).

Are riddles on-topic?

Yes, based on the voting to the answers to this question, the community has decided that riddles are on-topic.

Even if they are on-topic, are they welcome or just tolerated?

On-topic questions are on-topic questions. It doesn't matter if some people don't like them.

This comment from Jan Dvorak clearly shows that the on-topicness is still unclear and debated at best

Jan Dvorak doesn't seem to be very active on the site and perhaps is not aware of all our meta discussions regarding challenges and riddles. I read his comment (which is now deleted) and it didn't seem like he even read the entire post he linked to.

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  • $\begingroup$ The part "But we're not going to create a "Code Golf" counterpart to Puzzling SE." can be interpreted in some other forms also. About the tolerated part, although being on-topic might stop people from close-voting, it do not stops them from downvoting (in fact, nothing will, but we should just make it very clear that they are welcome and that puzzles and riddles should not be downvoted just because they are puzzles and riddles). About the rest, I agree with everything that you said. $\endgroup$ – Victor Stafusa Dec 16 '14 at 4:09
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Let's take a look at your 4 points!

  • Are puzzles on-topic?
  • Are riddles on-topic?
  • Even if they are on-topic, are they welcome or just tolerated?
  • If they are not on-topic, why?

I feel, that to get a good perspective on this, we ought to tackle these each individually, so here it goes.

1. Are puzzles on-topic?

This is a fairly broad question. So I think I'll give a general answer. Yes, or at least they should be. This site is called Puzzling is it not?

Directly from the Area 51 description:

Beta Q&A site for those who study the creation and solving of puzzles.

What better way to learn to create and solve than studying and practicing new puzzles. HOWEVER SOME PUZZLES ARE OFF-TOPIC FOR OBVIOUS REASONS SUCH AS BEING TOO BROAD, OR BEING A DUPLICATE, ETC.

It's clear to me that mainly puzzles are indeed on-topic.

2. Are riddles on-topic?

Another very broad question, but in general,

  • if the answer and validity isn't opinionated,
  • it isn't too broad,
  • and includes an easily demonstrative answer,

it should be on-topic. However, someone could argue that if the above guidelines are true, and it isn't guess what I'm thinking it's no longer a riddle. But generally, it's on topic in my opinion.

3. Even if they are on-topic, are they welcome or just tolerated?

Even though a riddle fits all the requirements (see point #2) many users, perhaps even a majority, are against them. So although many of us welcome them, and they fit fine in the policy, they may be downvoted, and just "tolerated".

I myself have nothing against riddles, and if they are presented in the right way, are fully acceptable from my point of view. But most riddles don't fit the criteria.

Although if the riddle is fully defined and fits the help center fine, and it's memorable. Then it should have no trouble turning out great in the eyes of the community. So it really depends on the solver reading it.

4. If they are not on-topic, why?

Finally we arrive to the dreaded question why they aren't on-topic. In a truly perfect world, they won't be, as they will fit the criteria and the community will accept that. But unfortunately it is not a perfect world.

This all breaks down to if the solver accepts riddles or not. Although downvoting should be used against bad question, and not a dislike or even hatred against a particular type of question, many people will do it.

However that don't make it off-topic. It's only off-topic if it don't fit the help center's rules. If there is no valid argument against your riddle (or any realistic argument) then chances are it'll do fine for the site, otherwise consider revising, or giving up.


In my personal opinion, it's on-topic as long as it follows the same rules as other puzzles. Otherwise, try again.

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  • $\begingroup$ In parts 3 and 4 you seems to be focusing only on riddles. What about non-riddles puzzles? $\endgroup$ – Victor Stafusa Dec 16 '14 at 4:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Victor In point 1 is such a clear YES to puzzles, that warspyking (war spiking thanks to iPad) has omitted them in points 3&4 as no longer relevant, I think. $\endgroup$ – BmyGuest Dec 16 '14 at 6:17
  • $\begingroup$ @BmyGuest That is correct. $\endgroup$ – warspyking Dec 16 '14 at 9:31

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