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Something's been on my mind a bit lately. We've had a not-insignificant quantity of community-made puzzles that use specific users as part of the puzzles. Is this an issue that needs handling?

I know I, personally, have come up a couple times in puzzles. Here's a short list of links, which does exclude a fair number of questions: Emrakul, Doorknob, Kevin, d'alar'cop, Doorknob, Doorknob, Joe, d'alar'cop, warspyking, Michael, Oblongamous, avigrail, Gilles.

It makes me personally uncomfortable to find that I'm being referenced in a puzzle without my foreknowledge and consent, and I'd personally appreciate it if people didn't use me in puzzles without asking first. However, I'm wondering if this should be a more general site policy.

Is using specific users in puzzles a behaviour we find acceptable, and if not, what action should we take?

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  • $\begingroup$ Emrakul feel free to rollback my edit, but I felt you missed a big question (also I added referencing/using) $\endgroup$ – warspyking Dec 15 '14 at 21:28
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    $\begingroup$ In the 'Murder on SE' question, I think I did check beforehand with all the people I mentioned (except possibly Gilles); warspyking and Michael I actually added at their behest! $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Dec 15 '14 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ @rand al'thor I edited that one in :D $\endgroup$ – warspyking Dec 16 '14 at 0:02
  • $\begingroup$ @warspyking - No, the OP linked to it but only mentioned d'alar'cop and not all the people featured, such as yourself :-) $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Dec 16 '14 at 10:05
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I don't think there's any need for a ruling on using other peoples names in your puzzle - it just adds a little twist to the puzzle and for the most part I don't see people minding.

I wouldn't be against recommending people ask, but enforcing a rule is just going to be more effort than it's worth, especially since you can't PM people on SO.

If that happened, I'd say create something like:

  • we recommend you get permission before using someone's name in a puzzle
  • if they ask you to remove it, you must change the name
  • you must not use someone's name where the association is intentionally derogatory
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  • $\begingroup$ In one of the puzzles linked to by the OP, I wrote a murder mystery in which D'alar'cop turned out to be a suicidal Duke who'd tried to frame Gilles for his murder. In another one, I think you'd been murdered by some other SE user! So maybe there should be a 'without permission' in your last line here? $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Dec 16 '14 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ @randal'thor I've changed it to "intentionally derogatory". I'm not sure it's the right phrasing either, but both those example puzzles were using the person lightheartedly and there was no derogatory association (contrast to the riddles about the mods after The Day) $\endgroup$ – Joe Dec 16 '14 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ Fair enough. ROFL at 'The Day' btw! :-) $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Dec 16 '14 at 16:41
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I personally don't see anything wrong with it!

In fact, I would feel flattered to see someone recognized me in the community and decided to place me in the puzzle. Really, all it is is a name filler.

I actually see it as a good thing, using random names could be misinterpreted as a clue, whereas filling it in with members of the community is a sign that nothing is significant and it's just a way to add some reality into the puzzle.

Besides, it's not like a future reader is gonna playback the puzzle using the name d'alar'cop or warspyking right? They'd probably add in their own names since these names are quite strange to be used as an actual name. "Warspyking was walking down the path 1 day..."

Although, I can see people being uncomfortable with this. Kind-of like how some people hate to be in pictures, this would take the same effect. Some people could dislike or even hate you doing this.

My thoughts would be in general, to simply ask first. Or at the very least, change the name if asked.

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    $\begingroup$ Assuming the "nothing wrong with it" policy is agreed on, an additional note of "If the user asks you to remove it in comments, find another name." While I don't see anything inherently wrong with using names, it would be rude to refuse such a request. $\endgroup$ – Set Big O Dec 15 '14 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Geobits It'd be unethical, like a lot of other things. It then becomes an ethical problem, not a policy problem. $\endgroup$ – warspyking Dec 16 '14 at 0:01
  • $\begingroup$ @warspyking Ethics and policy frequently collide... $\endgroup$ – user20 Dec 16 '14 at 0:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Emrakul Well if that happens, then a new policy can be brought forth to ask for permission, or a mod could just tell them to take it down or it'll be deleted $\endgroup$ – warspyking Dec 16 '14 at 2:56
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2 thoughts:

  • So long as the content abides by the "Be Nice" policy, I don't have any problem with it. If it becomes a passive-aggressive way of being rude then I would have a problem with that.

  • Some people evidently don't like it, so I would be happy with a general rule which says that it's polite to ask first (or if people don't mind their names being used and don't need to be asked then they can say so on their profile).

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I don't think user names should be used in puzzles.

Here is one example in a partial solution to Cross-Numbers (not words)!

Can you solve this Crossword (Cross-numbers) with numbers from the given pictures ?

In this puzzle (solved) one picture clue was an icon whose answer was

12. 51131 = User id of Omega Krypton

Since then, that user changed the icon, and so the clue is no longer solvable. In another case, the user might become inactive and not be easily known.

I am not suggesting that it was the case here, but there has been suspicion about voting rings on Stack Exchange such as the Meta What do to with ultra-sophisticated voting ring? There are others to be found too.

My own name has been used in a puzzle to refer to the solution of a previous one, and I think that is wrong too – it should be enough just to link to the previous puzzle or its answer.

Apart from attributing users who have created a similar puzzle, or acknowledging others' contribution to an answer, in my opinion user names should have no place in a puzzle as clues or answers.

That keeps the site "clean" and removes any idea that it is a club for those "in the know", or are setting puzzles for each other.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm very much on board with that last sentence. I think it's very easy to get comfortable with the idea of "popular users" being fair game for being (in some way) a part of our puzzles. But when you do that you ostracize people who don't know this community. What complicates this topic is that I can imagine a puzzle that references another user in a way that has no actual bearing on the puzzle's solvability... which I think I would be fine with. $\endgroup$ – Dark Thunder Jul 22 '19 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ I think your example is a little misleading. The big problem with that question is not referencing a certain user, but requiring the solver to know that user in order to solve the puzzle. The bare mention of a specific user is a far milder problem - for example, the [Deusovi honeypot](puzzling.stackexchange.com/questions/58255) is perfectly solvable even if you have no idea who or what a Deusovi is. $\endgroup$ – jafe Jul 27 '19 at 15:06
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Personally, I create quite a few riddles about members of the community whom I respect. I consider it an homage to their skill and presence. A mark of admiration. I always make the name of these users the end goal, so you don't need to know anything about them to actually solve the puzzle.

The ones that have been solved have garnered a fair amount of appreciation, so I don't think there's a problem with it. I'd agree that if you use a user's name in a derogatory manner or one that they would not be reasonably expected to be OK with, it should be avoided. Otherwise, though, I think it's a nice way to make this feel like a community. We see users every day competing with us to solve a puzzle first, and collaborating with us on the harder ones. They leave an impact on my experience on the site, so I like to pay that back in my puzzles.

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We could just add a statement to the effect of "Feel free to use my name in your puzzles" in our profiles. And for all other cases, ask the person first before using their name.

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    $\begingroup$ I think the profile is the wrong place - many people use many SE sites and info on the profile should be general not site-specific or only clear to site-insiders. $\endgroup$ – BmyGuest Dec 16 '14 at 6:25
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    $\begingroup$ Is it possible to change your profile only for one specific SE? I think so... $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Dec 16 '14 at 10:06
  • $\begingroup$ @rand You got a different profile on each sure I believe $\endgroup$ – warspyking Dec 16 '14 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ @warspyking It takes a puzzler to see how "sure" = "site"! $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Aug 27 '15 at 8:07
  • $\begingroup$ @rand al'thor Congrats on brining this up from the dead in my notifications. And I blame that on autocorrect! $\endgroup$ – warspyking Aug 27 '15 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ @warspyking Nah, just your fingers one space to the left of where they should have been, surely? $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Aug 27 '15 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ Possibly, but I'm always on mobile when on this site and it's rare when I make those mistakes on mobile. $\endgroup$ – warspyking Aug 27 '15 at 15:11

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