xnor asked me in a comment:

Given the recognition that Puzzling is unusual in that challenges are not meant to solve a real-world issue, can you explain the role of being easy to find on Google? Where do original puzzles fit in? More generally, how would SE judge the health of a challenge-based site?

I've been meaning to respond to this, but I've spent the last couple of weeks thinking about hats. As I considered the prospect of a 3-week event dedicated to having a good time, the problems of this site kept coming to mind. One sentence, in particular, was inspired by Puzzling:

It’s our solemn duty to cut out the nonsense leaving pure, unadulterated knowledge as permanent artifacts helpful to future visitors.

While, I tried to keep it light*, that sentence is 100% serious for me. If increasing the sum total of human knowledge were not a stated goal of Stack Exchange, I wouldn't be so interested in it.

My model of how the network functions is:

Questions -> Answers -> Knowledge

Starting with a topic space, curious people ask questions, experts answer them, Google picks up the results, and delivers knowledge to those who seek it. Fun has a purpose—a critical one at that—of bringing people back to repeat the process. If asking and answering questions are generally enjoyable experiences, folks will keep doing those tasks. That's why we have voting and badges and reputation and chat: to provide the sort of fun that brings people back to contribute more.

Challenges are an evolutionary dead end.

Don't get me wrong. I love challenge questions. A few years ago, I even asked a series of questions (now deleted) on Stack Overflow that followed this formula:

How do you X in your language of choice?

My goal was to collect a sort of Rosetta stone of simple tasks so that people could see various languages in action. For a while, I enjoyed seeing all the ways that people solved the problems. Over time, however, the thrill was gone; I really got tired of reading boring C++ and Java answers. So I changed tactics and focused on problems I actually faced in languages I actually use instead. That way, I knew all the answers would be useful to me as a programmer.

I took a detective fiction class in college. To save you 10 weeks and reading a bunch of novels, the secret to writing good mysteries (much like creating good puzzles) is to begin with the solution. This is how the author constructs every detail of the story to foreshadow the ending. When the detective makes the final reveal, the solution feels obvious and natural. All of the clues had pointed in that direction.

Stack Exchange was designed the same way—with searchable answers in mind. As a result, self-answering a question is a great way spread information. Every design detail feels natural if you focus on making the internet a better place for learning about the topic. If that's not your goal with the site, you will—like a salmon swimming upstream—become exhausted. At every turn, you are fighting the very system of content creation.

I see a lot of acrimony between some users and the moderators on this site. Some interactions outrage me, some bemuse me, but mostly they sadden me. Our moderator tools are carefully honed to cut out temporary amusements and bring out long term value. So it's no wonder that moderators sometimes clash with folks who are here to enjoy sharing inconsequential challenges and riddles with each other. If you feel frustrated with your moderators, understand that your true conflict is with the platform you have chosen to use.

Now what?

Given all the above, the question for you is: How can a site dedicated to Puzzling provide searchable knowledge to the internet? I know what my answer would be, but I'm not active in this community. Therefore, how do you intend to make this site work?

* Well, as light as a post that begins with a Nietzsche quote can be.

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    $\begingroup$ I object to the "trivial" in "sharing trivial challenges and riddles with each other". Many of the puzzles are difficult and intricate. Or am I misunderstanding what you mean by "trivial"? $\endgroup$
    – xnor
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ @xnor: Yeah. That was probably the wrong word. I meant something closer to inconsequential. The point is that questions which are never read after the puzzle has been solved and don't address actual, real life problems don't have any long-term value. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ @JonEricson Lifehacks is in private beta, so most people don't see any content at your link. The thread can be viewed on Stack Mobile or Column80. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ A simple google search "Puzzling" returns puzzling.SE in the first few results. A whole collection of puzzles. Another example word be by searching "puzzle" with a few keywords can easily bring up a question here. $\endgroup$
    – warspyking
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ @warspyking: That's a positive sign, for sure. But it's also sort of missing the point. If you are looking for variations on the 8-Queens problem, you won't find them here. It's not that such variations don't exist; rather nobody put the effort in to make them findable. That's what's wrong with challenges: they are selfishly designed for the entertainment of the people who already use the site. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 22:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Jon Ericson I disagree, a rather clever variation comes up 1st result of a google "puzzling 8 queens" $\endgroup$
    – warspyking
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 23:45
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    $\begingroup$ @JonEricson Shouldn't the same question be posed to the Code Golf community? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 0:04
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    $\begingroup$ Regardless of their meta discussion quality, shouldn't your "challenges are an evolutionary dead end" declaration also apply to Code Golf? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 0:39
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    $\begingroup$ @JoshCaswell FGITW applies to all SE sites. Plenty of questions will be answered by others if you don't see them soon enough. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 1:00
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    $\begingroup$ But for the kinds of questions that dominate other sites there's often (not always, granted) something else that can be added or explained better by a later answer, @pacoverflow; there might even be multiple possible answers, which is explicitly disallowed (with, I think, good reason) for challenge posts here. For, e.g., a cipher puzzle, once it's cracked, there's nothing more to be said. The plaintext is conclusive. $\endgroup$
    – jscs
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 1:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Josh Caswell Like chess.se? Also for Jon, last result on page 1 of search 8 queens variation puzzling also reveals a puzzle about 8 queens $\endgroup$
    – warspyking
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 2:37
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    $\begingroup$ @randal'thor: expertice (n) - the quality of having knowledge or skill in a subject other than spelling. (Fixed.) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 17:17
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    $\begingroup$ This is a thoughtful post, but given how quick people can sometimes be to quote what Stack Exchange "believes", it's worth sharing that Jon's view isn't that "of the company". We encourage folks to speak their minds. But while I share Jon's frustration with the hostility directed at the mods, I don't agree that this site or challenges are failing at anything. $\endgroup$
    – Jaydles
    Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 4:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Jaydles Thanks for the comment! I hope you guys understand that any hostility is just from a few users and doesn't represent the entire Puzzling community. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 23:43
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    $\begingroup$ @pacoverflow, I know! $\endgroup$
    – Jaydles
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 0:00

9 Answers 9


Puzzling makes the Internet better by generating quality content

People here write original puzzles. They also solve puzzles and share puzzles from elsewhere. The long-term goal is to create an organized repository of high-quality puzzles with well-explained solutions.

As for Googlability, the hope is that as the site grows, users find it by Googling things like "logic puzzles" or "riddles". They wouldn't necessarily be looking for a specific puzzle they already know, but simply for high-quality puzzles of a kind they enjoy.

I'm talking here only about puzzles as challenges on the site; the role of questions about puzzles is pretty clear.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ An archive of excellent original puzzles would certainly not make the world a worse place. One challenge, though, is organizing/categorizing the puzzles for people who are already on the site. That is, "Okay, I'm going to Puzzling to do a couple of really hard logic puzzles this afternoon...how do I find those?" $\endgroup$
    – jscs
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 0:56
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    $\begingroup$ A major question is: will that quality content ever be found? $\endgroup$
    – user20
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 2:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Emrakul Currently this site is on page 5 of a simple google search "puzzles". As the site content increases in quantity (Not that I forget how important quality is) that page number should lessen. At least it's top 4 of a search "puzzling" $\endgroup$
    – warspyking
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 2:42
  • $\begingroup$ Page # might also increase with an easily searched name. Searching "Puzzling" is quite hard. $\endgroup$
    – warspyking
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 2:46
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    $\begingroup$ We're currently #4 on a search of "riddle puzzles". $\endgroup$
    – xnor
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 3:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Emrakul I am yet to understand what "quality" means to you :p $\endgroup$
    – d'alar'cop
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 4:23
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    $\begingroup$ @JoshCaswell Go to Puzzling, find the 'logic' tag, and browse through some of the recent/unsolved questions there. (As for 'really hard', we're not allowed to use that as a tag.) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, it's a meta tag, @randal'thor, but maybe using them is an exception to normal SE practice that this site needs. The question that follows is who decides the level? The author may not be the best judge. $\endgroup$
    – jscs
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with this. I think we get into trouble when we start insisting that we can confirm how many others need some bit of info, or overlook how some lighter fare may just be the engine powering a community that generates some other, more "valuable" content. We won't be Yahoo Answers, and we DO like searchable stuff, but if a challenge helps stretch a few dozen brains here, I'm inclined to think it's a good thing unless it's undermining long-term site needs somehow, which I'm not seeing. $\endgroup$
    – Jaydles
    Commented Dec 20, 2014 at 14:45

Challenges are an evolutionary dead end.

If this is true, then Code Golf should be in trouble too. But if challenges are fine on Code Golf, then they should be fine here.

understand that your true conflict is with the platform you have chosen to use.

I think it's important to go back to the post and a comment that Director of Community Development Robert Cartaino made. He wrote:

This strikes me as one of those places where we created a site decidedly not like Stack Overflow, but we're trying to run it as if it was.

Don't try and change it into something it's not. Despite us "pure Q&A" evangelists, philosophies change. As it turns out, we DO handle this content better than anyone else.

So this is a "different" place; we're okay with that. Increasingly, we're judging what "works" under a broader premise: "Can we do this better than anyone else?" [...] these philosophies are evolving as we adapt to what we've learned building 130+ of these things.

It sounds like you might be one of the "pure Q&A evangelists" that Robert mentioned. But he says that this site is "decidedly not like Stack Overflow" and it shouldn't be run that way.

He also says that "philosophies change" and "are evolving as we adapt to what we've learned building 130+ of these things". So even if Puzzling.SE is in conflict with the original StackOverflow model, the SE platform itself is adapting and evolving. Like Robert said, the SE platform may be able to handle this content (puzzle challenges) better than anyone else.

So to answer your question: If Code Golf can work (I don't participate there, but haven't seen any comments to indicate that the site doesn't work), then I don't see any reason why the current Puzzling.SE can't work as well.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is worth saying again: Code Golf is a gigantic exception in Stack Exchange, and isn't something we can model ourselves after. $\endgroup$
    – user20
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 19:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Emrakul That has been said a few times, though I don't think anyone has provided a reason for why not. In addition, Robert Cartaino has said SE is evolving, so why can't we model ourselves after Code Golf? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 19:30
  • $\begingroup$ Long historical reasons, which I will try to summarize my understanding of. PPCG was an experiment - a test, and solely that. It was decided that PPCG could stay, but also that it's not the type of community Stack Exchange is about. $\endgroup$
    – user20
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Emrakul If I remember correctly, the declaration that PPCG was an experiment/test was made 3 years ago. SE has evolved and grown since then, so I'm not sure we can say anymore that Puzzling cannot follow Code Golf. Puzzling can be a second exception without opening the door to any other exceptions. PPCG is about coding puzzles and Puzzling is about non-coding puzzles. These 2 sites cover all types of puzzles and there can't be any more exceptions, if that's what you're worried about. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Emrakul, I'm not convinced that "Golf must remain unique" is actually the current view of SE management, given that Robert Cartiano's post linked above seems to contradict it. $\endgroup$
    – A E
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 22:37
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    $\begingroup$ Cartaino's quote sums up my answer in a lot less words and from an authority nonetheless. Nice find. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 8:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Mazura - If you hadn't already seen Cartaino's post, you must be a newcomer to the site! :-) The question he answered caused the biggest upheaval I've ever seen on any SE: lots of insult-flinging (which still hasn't stopped), whole questions posted just to tear into the moderators, and most of the top P.SE users deciding to leave the site. It was a complete fiasco which P.SE still hasn't recovered from, though some people are trying to help it recover. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 11:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Emrakul: After pondering this problem for a couple of weeks, I think that emulating the parts of Code Golf that work is the way forward. We should also learn from their mistakes (such as code trolling). $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 31, 2014 at 20:04

A number of people mentioned Code Golf as needing the same advice. Certainly, there are a lot of similarities between the two sites. In fact I recently read a critique that fits Puzzling as much as Code Golf:

It just seems way more fun to answer than to ask. Given the time to compose a creative question, you start getting disappointed with only a few answers, especially if people seem to be just solving your problem and not golfing it. Also by its very nature, there is no timeline for accepting answers. If you've invested a lot in defining a puzzle then why declare a winner if it closes your puzzle?

So there is an issue here about the fact that grafting puzzle/solution onto the SE model has a bit of a mismatch. I don't think it's correctible, which isn't a condemnation of the site in any way. It just means that it's always going to be kind of weird and policy needs to be laid out.

So I want to suggest a few steps that would go a long way to fixing the problems I see:

Step one: Fix some titles.

Are you clever enough?

Those are 9 different questions with the same tite. (Ok, they have slightly different titles in that they are numbered 1 to 9.) That's a problem because you actually have to click through to have any idea what the question is all about. Not even the tags ( ) help much.

Code golfers, by contrast, tend to use descriptive titles:

  1. Golf you a quine for great good!

  2. Golf you a Double Quine for greater good!

  3. Write a third order quine

These are early results when I search for perl quine golf. Leaving off "perl" and the top result (in an incognito window) is the first question which might be the finest collection of quines in existence. It's not hard to find interesting questions on Code Golf, but I found just two reasonably interesting puzzles in recent sample of 10.

Obviously, this is my own opinion based on my own temperament. As a (former) programmer, I delight in clever little programs that do pointless things like print copies of themselves. But I also enjoy logic problems and riddles and the other things that are on topic here. The difference: it's often impossible to gauge my potential interest in a question on this site by reading the title (and tags) alone.

Step two: Dispose of disposable puzzles.

I actually really like the idea of using this site as a testbed for aspiring puzzle authors. Given voting, it would be excellent way to determine if a puzzle is challenging or just obscure. I've designed little riddles and puzzles for my friends and family; honest feedback is invaluable to improving my ability to educate and amuse. But for that to work, the community would need to feel free to discard the duds. Between closing, deletion, and historical locks, Stack Exchange has plenty of tools to handle questions that don't quite work. So it isn't the tooling, but the culture that needs to be attuned to culling puzzles.

Step three: Categorize.

One of the best ways to see the range of a site's topic space is to look at the tags. Obviously, the top handful of tags are very broad and carve out the topic into subtopics (or genres). The last page or two of tags are specific puzzle names that might only have one or two questions ever asked. That's just how folksonomies work. My suggestion on this front is to work on digging into categories of questions that exist on the site, but are not uniformly tagged. For instance, there are three questions that reference the Monty Hall problem but there is no tag. Or rather, there wasn't until I created it just now. Adding more detailed tags can go a long way toward making this site generally useful.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I haven't read this post in detail yet, but it starts off badly. "Just solving your problem and not golfing it" doesn't apply here, and I've never heard of anyone getting disappointed with few answers, or even just one answer if it really corks the puzzle. Personally I find it usually more fun, albeit often more difficult, to ask than to answer, and I know there are plenty of others who feel the same. So your critique from PPCG doesn't really fit here at all. (A more active user of this site wouldn't need to be told that.) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 31, 2014 at 22:40
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    $\begingroup$ @randal'thor: Perhaps you should skip the first section altogether then. The point of the introduction is to address the idea that since many of my concerns about this site apply to Code Golf I'm somehow wrong to be concerned. (As an aside, I find that comments are most productive when they focus on the content of a post and not the author.) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 31, 2014 at 22:50

Thanks for the post.

Well, there's quite a few things to unpack there. I'll try to be as brief as I can.

As I see them, the issues you've raised are:

1) Does puzzling.SE "increase the sum total of human knowledge"?

2) Should it?


3) I may be entirely wrong here, but the timing and the references to "clashes" and "conflict" suggest to me a subtext concerning the recent incivility.

I'm going to address those points in a wildly random and unpredictable order.

3. Subtext: incivility

I could be totally wrong here, and maybe that isn't what prompted your post. But I'm not too bothered if I am, because what I have to say isn't really addressed to you (Jon), it's addressed to those people who think that Puzzling.SE is an appropriate venue for name-calling, playground insults and George Carlin's "seven words you can't say on television".

  • This is Puzzling.SE

  • It's not Name-Calling.SE

  • It's not Let'sStickItToTheMan.SE

  • It's not IHaveAnIssueWithAuthority.SE or WorkOutYourDaddyIssues.SE

  • It's not ModsWereWrongNowLetsRubTheirFacesInIt.SE

Regardless of whether puzzles-as-challenges are on-topic or off-topic, it's my personal view that "Hey, person, you are a total (swearword)" or similar verbal abuse is completely, irrevocably and permanently off-topic.

So is "If, hypothetically, someone were to call that person a (swearword), then ... (bogus question follows)". And so is "You're ignoring my underlying argument because I called you a (swearword), and that's so so very wrong of you, you should have infinite patience". Just no. If you have something to say then express yourself like an adult.

If you want /b/, you know where to find it.

The choice is not between a Puzzling.SE where challenges-as-puzzles are off-topic and a Puzzling.SE in which personal abuse is on-topic. If I had access to a ban-hammer I would have been wielding it over the past few days; I think the mods have shown almost super-human patience in not doing so. (If the mods would like someone who is pro-puzzles-as-challenges to wield the banhammer against uncivil users on their behalf, then I volunteer).

That's only my personal opinion, I can't speak for anyone else. If anyone agrees with me on this then feel free to make yourselves heard in the comments. Those of us who think that puzzles-as-challenges should be on-topic need to make a clear statement that the one or two users who get a kick from griefing the mods do not speak for the majority of us who are pro-puzzle.

tl;dr: Creatively challenging conventional wisdom: yes. Thuggish verbal abuse: no.

1. Does puzzling.SE increase the sum total of human knowledge?

Wow, way to set a challenging goal here! :) Let's try to eat the elephant one bite at a time.

My feeling (and I think this is a matter of subjective personal judgement) is that it does.

There are some forms of creative endeavour which do not have an immediate practical real-world application: blue-sky scientific research is one of them; poetry, plays, films and novels are others; photography is another, as are sculpture, painting and singing; puzzling is another.

It would be a shame - and, in my personal opinion, it would be inaccurate - to characterise all those things as worthless, trivial nonsense.

While not all of our content is perfect (how could it be?), I see enough gems on here that I'm convinced. A few real gems is enough.

One problem is that those gems are currently hidden gems. I can see why someone taking a superficial look at our content might not find them. I agree that that is a problem. I think that one way we could start to solve it would be for us to find more ways to reward good content. For example:

  • I would love to see a 'question of the month' competition (like photography.SE has for photos).

  • I'd like to be able to award bounties to questions as well as answers.

  • I'd like to be able to double-upvote (or star, or something) the best questions, even if it costs some rep points (about which, who cares anyway?)

(Also: there's a 'compared to what?' question here. My recent question on Motor Vehicle Maintenance and Repair is important to me, but I think it could reasonably be seen as pretty trivial in the Grand Overall Scheme Of Things, Our Place In The Universe, And The Advancement Of Human Knowledge. I'm not convinced that if I asked a question about Perl regexps or the format of bash commands then that would be innately less trivial. In 1000 years time I can't see anyone caring about the bulb type on the Volvo V60 daytime running lights or the right way to do backrefs in regexps. Whereas a really good puzzle can last for thousands of years and raise issues which go way beyond the puzzle itself).

2. Must puzzling.SE either "increase the sum total of human knowledge" or be totally worthless?

It's pretty clear to me that different stakeholders here on SE have different goals. "Increasing the sum total of human knowledge" is a laudable goal, but it's not the only valid goal. It's even possible for a single person to participate for more than one reason.

I'm not going to try and hash out here what the 'goal of stack exchange' (as a community or as a for-profit corporation) either is or should be - it would be wildly off-topic and it's not going to get decided right here in any case.

For me the declaration we've already had from SE's management that Puzzling.SE's challenges-as-puzzles are and should be within the scope of SE is sufficient.

For anyone making the argument that SE has only one goal and Puzzling.SE is incompatible with that, I'd refer you to Robert Cartaino's post of December 3rd, which says that Puzzling.SE is in-scope and puzzles-as-challenges are in-scope for Stack Exchange. He's SE (Inc)'s Director of Community Development so it seems reasonable to assume that he speaks for SE (the corporation). (Obviously they could change their minds on that at any time - if they do then we'll take our content and go elsewhere). So if you believe that SE should have one overriding goal (with which Puzzling.SE happens to be incompatible) then SE (Inc) are really the people to try to convince, rather than us.

I hope that's all helpful.

I've been trying to go by the rule of "at least one posting of a decent quality puzzle to the main site per contribution to meta", but I've failed this time - I felt it was important to make the point that uncivil users don't speak for everyone who is pro-puzzles-as-challenges (or just pro-puzzling.SE), and then while I was posting anyway I thought I might as well say the rest of it. :)

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    $\begingroup$ There's a lot of good stuff here, but I think you're letting the insult-throwing (regrettable as it is) distract you a bit too much. As far as I can see, your section 3 is not answering the question. Couldn't you post that in a separate question? I haven't UV'ed or DV'ed, but if you migrate section 3 to another post, I will UV :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ @AE "ModsWereWrongNowLetsRubTheirFacesInIt" you give away your region there lol $\endgroup$
    – d'alar'cop
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ Part 3 answers the penultimate para of the question re "acrimony". $\endgroup$
    – A E
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 17:31

Some ideas on using challenge questions to "make the internet a better place".

  1. A number of puzzle challenges posted here are related (sometimes loosely) to well-known puzzles. We should be more diligent about mentioning this in a question when it comes up. We definitely want a Google search for something like "< puzzle name > variation" to turn up these puzzles. Maybe someone who understands Google's algorithm better than I can suggest a good way to do this.

    It would also be nice if folks posting challenge questions linked to one or more similar puzzles, on- or off-site. Maybe we could have a standard format for this, like a 'Related:' heading at the bottom or something. It would be really useful if puzzling.SE could serve as a sort of 'hub' for people interested in variations of a particular puzzle.

  2. One of the things puzzling.SE has going for it is that there is a bunch of really original content generated by its users. We need to make this content accesible, in a permanent way, to people who will benefit from it. At the moment, I feel like puzzling.SE doesn't work so well as a place to browse puzzles: we have non-challenge questions mixed in with puzzles, and like on many other forums open to the public, the average quality of posts isn't fantastic.

    I'm just brainstorming here, and I know this doesn't really fit with the Stackexchange philosophy, but suppose that periodically we selected a handful of original puzzles created by community members, polished them, and had some sort of "Puzzles of the Month". Folks on the internet searching for puzzles to solve would (hopefully) come across this, and get use out of it.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In fact I could go to any site and note that "the average quality of X isn't fantastic". This is a natural phenomena. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sturgeon%27s_law $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Victor Agreed. Maybe the point is Stackexchange sites in general work better for searching than for browsing. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ Your second point was very much also my feeling, and the reason I started this meta post on a Puzzling-digest $\endgroup$
    – BmyGuest
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 21:53

Rather than answering based on Puzzling's current status, here's something to think about — we could build the world's largest repository of puzzles indexed by mechanic, similar to this.

The idea is that after a puzzle is solved, it is tagged appropriately with the relevant mechanics employed in the puzzle. Puzzles which are currently unsolved may take more generic tags in the meanwhile.

The biggest advantage is that:

  • Puzzle-writers looking for ideas can explore specific tags for inspiration
  • Puzzle-solvers hoping to improve at certain types of puzzles or wishing to know how different mechanics may be employed can look them up easily

However as @Geobits pointed out, there is a disadvantage:

  • Latecomers to the puzzle may be spoiled by the tags

I admit that I don't yet have an answer to this, but I thought I'd bring to the discussion a possible path the site could take.


User created, original eyeball-benders. That's my one liner, what follows is an entire pocket's worth of change my interpretation of the situation and for if somehow you find xnor's reasoning unsound.

Why does the tag not exist? I was working on a 'question' but never finished it due to lack of pics and also became discouraged not finding the appropriate tag. My intent was to post one with a spoiled answer and have others 'answer' in the same format. No one would want to browse through wrong/un-answered eye-benders I'd guessed. I thought the SE format would give rise to some of the best user created content humanity has to offer; the same as the content on every other SE site.

The difference about SE is that the entire community (users and mods) won't put up with BS. I think the problem with Puzzling is that users and mods here are askew in their definitions of BS. That and both their interpretations of how this site should operate in general. I expect questions about how to make puzzles and solve them to be here but that is not why I come here.

When you click Ask Question:

Is your question about creation and solving of puzzles?

We prefer questions that can be answered, not just discussed.

How 'bout:

We prefer questions about the creation and solving of puzzles that can be answered, not just discussed. Original content is encouraged, however it should have only one discernible solution. (hint- good puzzle makers work backwards)

There is some good, (AFAIK) original content here. Using view counts to find the gems is less than efficient, though. Perhaps some new sort of permanent Featured assignment could be awarded by moderators to the posts that are of the utmost quality. "VIP" -very important post or very imponderable predicament.

My comment on Extremely concerned with Puzzling SE answer quality: (I have either missed your point entirely or this page is highly pertinent.)

Personally I give Puzzles a pass (no down voting for content) to not stem anyone's creativity. It is a new site, will not solve any real life problems and is just for fun. The accepted answer will never be (Yahoo'ed) overcome by it. I say this with the utmost objective sincerity: if you don't like having fun and cracking jokes don't go there; it deserves an atmosphere a little less than the ordinarily stifling SE sites.

If you replace 'knowledge' (in your text and the diagram) with 'entertaining original content' I see no problem. I like how SE works; "the good floats to the top". The voting system works fine. It seems to me that the puzzling community at large would agree with me but the moderators and site-wide SE aficionados think this site is somehow sullying all of Stack Exchange. If ever there was a serious question about puzzling I'd expect to find it here after being distracted by all the neat stuff we've come up with.

The problem is not the platform; it's the people on it. Especially the one's whose job it is to keep it level. I have no envy for moderators who disagree with and have watched users turn this site into what they want it to be. Puzzling SE has become a beast where TPTB are either incapable or unwilling to unanimously direct change; and that's just fine by me.

PS- disappointed realizing I was still reading the question and that it culminated in yet another question. I would enjoy your own answer and suggestions in the same eloquence, yet it doesn't sound like it would be on a positive note for the site...

I get the feeling some of the mods here are in need of a life line. My winter-hat's off to you for for at least bothering to ask, hey guys, what's going on here?



What I see is people posting interesting challenges and interesting answers. In fact, if this not happened, at least me, I would not be here. I see a lot of newcomers coming to this community with the purpose of posting questions and answers. We are gaining a lot of momentum, so I really don't see how do you think that this community is an evolutionary dead-end. People come here by a lot of ways that are not called "Google". We are, or at least could be, becoming a great puzzling community and Google comes after that, not before.

In most of the questions here, challenges are question and solutions are answers. And the StackExchange format is very appropriate for...

... QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS! (whoa, big surprise!!!11!!eleven!!)

So I really, really don't understand how we could be "salmons swimming upstream" with regards to that. I personally feel like a salmon swimming upstream, but for a reason completely different than what you are telling.

I feel very comfortable in using the Q&A format for posting "inconsequential" challenges and riddles, it fits perfectly for those.

But then you (or someone else) might argue about the "searchable answers". Are people unlikely to find some specific answer by typing it in Google? So what? Why should we care? This is expected, since nobody that is stuck in his Sudoku would Google for the solution of his particular Sudoku instance or anything similar to that. The purpose here is to have original content, and this means that it is extremely unlikely that people will type something in Google that happens to match perfectly with some challenge here that he/she never saw before and he/she was looking for the answer. What we do have to do with Google is about people looking to where share his/her puzzles and solve random unseen challenges created by other people, not by searching for answers of a particular puzzle. In fact, a strong evidence for that is a deleted question where somebody was trying to contact the community or hire somebody to make puzzles for some magazine or some sort of print media or something like that (I still do not heve enough rep to see deleted questions, so can't confirm its exact contents), and if someone was looking for us with this purpose, I think that we are succeding in creating original high-quality content.

Thinking a bit more about searchable content (be it questions or answers), most of non-bikeshed questions in StackOverflow and every other StackExchange community are not very searchable. To prove that, I just randomly grabbed a perfectly valid zero-votes question from StackOverflow that is unlikely to help anyone else in the future. You know that the majority of SO's content are questions like that. What you are telling with the searchable content and implying that this makes this an evolutionary dead-end, for me it looks like a re-edition of the "too localized" fallacy, but this time applied to the entire community. The main purpose of the StackExchange format is POSTING QUESTIONS AND GETTING ANSWERS (oh, incredible surprise, again) so, searchability of the answers is really secondary. What makes this community valuable is not searchability of the answers but collaboration and expertise on building and answering questions.


Now, I said above that I feel like a "salmon swimming upstream" for a reason. Which reason? The reason is that I feel a serious threat of having this site get suddenly closed. And this is the very reason of the "acrimony". Further, this very question that I am answering right now just increases my feeling of this threat. And I think that I am not the only one that feels like that. So, we are either in a state of collective paranoia or perhaps the threat is real.

Why so many "acrimony" between us and moderators? Because we expect that moderators work for the success of the site. The infamous question in the start of the month was (or at least looked like) a strong evidence to the contrary, but as Doorknob said in the chat, it has "status-declined". Good, "status-declined", so lets move on. And then? Will this community close? Is our questions on-topic? This doubts is the reason that motivated me to create another meta question. What we got in the end? Emrakul said in chat that I teamed up with rand al'thor and Oblongamous. Good, so be it. For what reason would we team up? BECAUSE WE WANT TO SAVE THIS COMMUNITY! However apparently nobody understand that our purpose is not just pointing the finger over and over, OUR PURPOSE IS TO SAVE THIS COMMUNITY AND MAKE IT WORK.

Ok, Emrakul answered my question. He said that the health of the site is good. I guess that this implies that the questions are on-topic, good. I really expected that he said that directly and explicitly, or at least said something like "in my personal opinion, they are on-topic". Why I would like to see that? Because we want to close the area 51 proposal for puzzles and riddles and have for sure that we are safe here and that this community will not suddenly be closed, nor suddenly have everything banned, WE DON'T WANT MORE BAD SURPRISES.

Why should the moderators say something? I could copy-and-paste a lot of things that I said to Geobits in chat here, but I can summarize it as "because we expect that moderators be the leaders of the community". What we got was just Doorknob saying that they are human exception handlers (quoting Jeff Atwood). Sure, moderators are that, but they are just that? Are moderators just regular users with an additional power of handling flag queues and nothing more, or should we expect them to be leaders of the community? If moderators are not meant to be leaders, then, sorry I really got it wrong for some years since I joined StackOverflow some years ago, and it is really a funny fact that I see this in some others StackExchange communities. Otherwise, I am not seeing any leadership here.

At least for me, I initially got a sense that the moderators didn't care about this community, since they proposed to put 90% of it as off-topic and would succeed with the community-suicide if Robert Cartaino didn't show up. Ok, as Doorknob said, that got "status-declined". After that, Doorknob asked for some feedback (which is very good) and then we just got silence, this is one of the many reasons that made me open a new question.

Now a question: Which people that have a diamond (either being or not from StackExchange staff) actually care for this community? Shog9 seems to don't care, he thinks that this community is a joke. Robert Cartaino seems to care. You (Jon Ericson), I don't know. But, do the moderators of this community care for it? So, Kevin, Doorknob and Emrakul, if you care and love this community, like many users do, please take the leadership of it, this is what your diamonds represent to us. Or else, just say that you are not meant to be leaders and the purpose of your diamonds is solely to be human exception handlers and nothing more.

And when I talk about taking the leadership, do not forget that:

$leadership \neq dictatorship$

And I already saw a lot of time people telling that we shouldn't upvote crap. Good. Fair enough. However I am not seeing the other side: "Don't downvote good content" and "Don't downvote just because you disagree". This should be pretty obvious, but what I am perceiving in practice is an incentive to downvote everything, including good content, and I don't think that any community will ever succeed in this way. But Doorknob didn't saw any evidence of that... Curiously in other community were I participate since the private beta the last time that I got a downvote there (and this is very rare) the person who downvoted me even posted a comment saying something like "sorry for the downvote, but your answer is just wrong, don't take it as personal and don't be discouraged". I never saw anything similar to that here, it would be a dream if that happened. BTW, that community has excellent content quality, is growing fast and it is the most friendly community that I ever saw in StackExchange. Too bad that this one is not.

We really thinks that something is broken and must be fixed in this community right now and that the moderators are essential for that, otherwise you would be better to just please Shog9 and shut it down right now because this will never work. And the thing that is broken in this site, surely has nothing to do with Google. We are not here just to annoy the moderators, point fingers and complain about everything, we are trying to build a puzzling site without being bothered AND make the moderators act accordingly.

We want to save this community and make it work, and this very question that I am answering right now is a strong evidence that we are failing. Oblongamous didn't ranted randomly in the chat for no reason and no motivation, even if we do not agree with the way that he chose to do that. Also, I, rand al'thor and avigrail did not expressed our opinion for no reason, even if we/you/whoever do not agree with the particular way that each one chose to do that (and in fact I personally disagree with Oblongamous, avigrail and rand al'thor in many things, even if we were supposing teaming up). This is the result of our frustration. This very answer that I am writing right now is the result of my personal frustration.

Phew, that was a long text about the acrimony, sorry about that, but in some way Emrakul asked us to join constructive discussion and this is exactly what I am trying to do here.

I mostly written this answer before the longs talks on meta that happened today (just didn't finished it at the time because this answer is very long and took me a lot of time to write down). Most parts of this answer were written yesterday and my brain couldn't yet process the gigantic amount of information from chat and new meta-topics today. So, forgive-me if something really important happened and I didn't mentioned it here (clue: I am sure that it indeed happened). But this only leads we to our next topic right below here:

Now what?

Ok people, we already shot our own feet enough ... with bazookas and RPGs. So what to do to fix up this mess?

Now, what I would really really like is to be able to post and read questions and answers in this site calmly without being bothered, without having fear for trying to collaborate and being punished for that, without receiving bad surprises and without mysteriously receiving downvotes and close-votes from people that do not care to post a single letter as a comment explaining why.

What we need in order to make this community be peaceful and successful again is an unambiguous, clear and direct statement that the challenges are on-topic and welcome. Somebody asked me why I insists in the "welcome", and the answer is because I already saw something being permitted but very strongly discouraged in other site. And we need that definition now! But it looks like that d'alar'cop already took the initiative about that.

What else? As I already said before, we need to train the community about how to write good questions and not about how to downvote and close crappy questions. Otherwise, this site will never work. And I think that this is one of the most important issues that we have here.

And finally there is a lot of problems here that were kept unsolved by many reasons, like lazyness, fear, frustration, ignorance, lack of initiative and MAINLY LACK OF COMMUNICATION. What I've seen in chat today (even if my brain still can't fully process it) is that WE ARE TALKING RIGHT NOW and that EVERYBODY IS TRYING TO SOLVE THE PROBLEMS. But talking is no easy. There is always someone who will get enraged and say stupid things like ad-hominem attacks and name-calling. There is always some people getting angry. There is always some people getting confused. There is always some people getting tired. There is always some people getting frustrated. And they always will disagree around major points. BUT ANY SERIOUS TALK ABOUT COMPLEX ISSUES INVOLVING POLICIES ARE EXACTLY LIKE THAT. So, the chat may be noisy, confusing and even hostile, but this is necessary and important, otherwise we will never put down our problems. And hey Jon Ericson, it is exactly what we are doing right now.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ +1 for questioning the assumption that an SE site is valueless without strong googleability. $\endgroup$
    – A E
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 22:42
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Why has this excellent answer been downvoted?? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 11:22

@ Jonny, that's very easy my friend. People post riddles and as a following, there are solution to these riddles. It's pretty similar to reading books. You can read fairy tales, fictional novels or whatever literature one might prefer. However, this won't help you other than burning time. The real deal is original thoughts by different people and real experiences along with original content - can you smell it?

So in order to solve riddles people will come here and learn about the different techniques and can train themselves like a medical student with a real body. We could also, for example, provide one page with the five most important riddle techniques and that's it, sure. But teaching someone the alphabet doesn't mean he is able to talk afterwards.

Can you smell it? (by the way, nice hat!)

I felt like adding a joke. Riddling is almost like this: enter image description here

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I had some time to think about this answer since yesterday was my day off. After mentally stripping out the ad hominem (unintentional?), I'm left with the answer: "Give us free reign to play". The trouble is we've more or less done that and the results so far have been ugly to my eyes. As this community matures, it needs to figure out how to find satisfactory compromises concerning the methods and goals of the site. With that in mind, I encourage you to edit this answer and expand on your vision for the site. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ Don't worry. I'm having fun in hiding insults but don't take it seriously. It's my riddlish attitude. Feel free to include some, too. I'd love to find some! $\endgroup$
    – Avigrail
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 20:16
  • $\begingroup$ @JonEricson I did this like one month ago: meta.puzzling.stackexchange.com/questions/1465/… for I saw this whole issue coming towards us. We also just had a productive chat where we talked about headlines and key answers (meta stuff coming soon). $\endgroup$
    – Avigrail
    Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 20:21

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