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EDIT: Please be aware that this question predates a time on Puzzling SE in which a lot of policies were re-discussed and re-thought. See also this post for historic context.


Recently, there have been many (4) questions that have essentially been "Solve this cryptic crossword clue: Foo bar." These types of questions seem less than ideal for a few reasons:

  • the SE posts are all essentially the same ("solve this clue")
  • they're unlikely to help future visitors (which is the whole point of Stack Exchange) as so many exist that two people are unlikely to happen upon the exact same clue
  • the questions are trivial, easy to write, and can very easily be low in quality ("solv ths clu plz kthxbai")

What does the community think?

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the SE posts are all essentially the same ("solve this clue")

Most questions on Stack Overflow are either “debug this program” or “implement this specification”. Most questions on Mathematics are “prove this”. Your point?

they're unlikely to help future visitors (which is the whole point of Stack Exchange) as so many exist that two people are unlikely to happen upon the exact same clue

That is indeed an issue. However, do note that on Stack Overflow, the original Stack Exchange, questions that contain a code snippet are not intrinsically rejected, yet the odds that someone will come by with the same code snippet are tiny.

the questions are trivial, easy to write, and can very easily be low in quality ("solv ths clu plz kthxbai")

Again, debug/prove this kthxbai. Yet SO and Math manage to be useful.


Not that I'm convinced that posting cryptic crossword clues should be acceptable. But I find them a welcome distraction from the rest of the site:

Language-based questions provide a well-needed breath of fresh air in a site where, if you take out the scum, what remains is mostly a subsite of an existing thriving site.

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    $\begingroup$ "Debug my code" questions are the main problem with Stack Overflow. Just because they exist doesn't mean they should be used as examples of what's on topic. $\endgroup$ – Kendall Frey Jun 4 '14 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ @KendallFrey I agree with that sentiment about SO, but a majority of the MSO community disagrees. “Debug my code” questions are on-topic, and encouraged — witness all the questions that are closed for not having code. $\endgroup$ – Gilles Jun 4 '14 at 20:40
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    $\begingroup$ "Debug my code" is not encouraged. "Help me understand what I found when debugging my code" is encouraged. Here isn't the place to discuss this though, and you are right in that the right kind of "What's wrong with this code?" is on-topic on SO. $\endgroup$ – Kendall Frey Jun 4 '14 at 20:45
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In light of recent activity in Puzzling.SE. I think we need to reconsider this issue. Firstly, many prominent members of the community have indulged in posting questions and answers on cryptic crossword clues.

I see cryptic crosswords as very similar if not totally analogous to riddles. If we going to accept riddles then must certainly accept cryptic crossword clues.

Another thing is that they don't live anywhere else on SE (maybe ELU.SE?).

Finally, something people can get here that they (99% probability) won't get on a Google search is an explanation (which we, as a community, enforce).

The issue is then: do we allow people to invent their own and place them as challenges? This will be contentious. They are both mass-producible and subject to quality concerns. But since riddles are currently thriving this is something which needs to be reopened for discussion.

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  • $\begingroup$ I bumped this and want to talk about it because of the <the content of my answer> and puzzling.stackexchange.com/questions/5498/… $\endgroup$ – d'alar'cop Nov 24 '14 at 10:37
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    $\begingroup$ I'd expect the bulk of the cryptic crossword questions to be “I'm solving today's <paper> and I'm stuck on this clue…” rather than clues made up to post here. Unlike typical long-form riddles, cryptic crossword clues are supposed to have a unique solution that is easy to verify; this is typically achieved by professional setters, not necessarily for original clues. $\endgroup$ – Gilles Nov 24 '14 at 17:12
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I don't think the question as to the appropriateness of cryptic crossword clues can be resolved with reference only to four recent examples.

Cryptic crossword clues are not all the same. The best setters put a lot of effort into developing different kinds of clue, and SE could be a marvellous resource for people doing exactly that.

Writing cryptic crossword clues is a respected art, doing it well takes great skill, and as with any art there is a lot of scope for originality. (@Doorknob, you sound as though you're not into it - which is fine but no reason to knock it.) Good clues are neither trivial nor easy to write. Certainly you can get clues that are of low quality, but I don't think anyone is arguing that SE should be a repository for low-quality anything.

Crosswords are a genre of puzzle that a lot of people, including people who are already very skilled at solving or setting, want to get better at solving, setting or both. Ideal for SE, is what I'd say.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think you may need to consider the dates of the OP and other answers. They all predate the time I would call "clearing policies" in early December 2014, when some general directions of Puzzling-SE were re-defined and (more commonly) accepted. I think most "is-it-on-topic" meta-posts which pre-date this period should be read with a "historic mind". If they are still valid, I think they should be re-asked in a new posting (with a reference link), to help confusion and relighting old fires. $\endgroup$ – BmyGuest Jan 2 '15 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ I'm confused: are you arguing for or against cryptic crossword clues as questions? On the one hand your arguments support the pro position. On the other hand you seem to be disagreeing with my answer, which is currently the top-voted answer and thus presumably reflects the community position, and which is pro. $\endgroup$ – Gilles Jan 3 '15 at 20:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Gilles - sorry, I meant to refer to Doorknob's answer, not to yours! I will edit to correct. $\endgroup$ – h34 Jan 4 '15 at 13:01
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First, note that two of the four questions you refer to are not asking for the solution as you state, they include the solution in the question and are asking how it fits the clue.

the SE posts are all essentially the same ("solve this clue")

So are the rest of the chestnuts here. Cryptic clues just happen to have shorter clues and, often, solutions. The biggest difference is that with a cryptic you can show some effort to have solved it yourself. Let's look at some recent similar questions:

The Magic Stick

Here's a relatively easy puzzle that's actually entirely my own creation.
[puzzle dump]

Aside from brute force, how can I solve this puzzle?

[puzzle dump]
[attempt to solve]

How many squares can 4 queens control?

[short background]
[puzzle dump]

A building with an odd elevator

[puzzle dump]

Tell me, how are any of those better than any of the four cryptic questions?


they're unlikely to help future visitors (which is the whole point of Stack Exchange) as so many exist that two people are unlikely to happen upon the exact same clue

I disagree. It's not like people just pick a couple puzzles at random from all possible cryptics. Especially for the more widely distributed ones, many people are likely to do the same puzzle, and for the regular installments (e.g. the Times), many people are likely to be doing the same puzzle within a relatively short time of each other. I myself have googled for solutions (and sometimes found them, sometimes not).


the questions are trivial, easy to write

Do you think any of the questions I linked above are any harder? Copy-and-paste. Post. Structurally, the existing cryptics questions are better than most of the chestnuts we have.

and can very easily be low in quality ("solv ths clu plz kthxbai")

So can any other puzzle on the site. So can any other post on this site. If you don't think the asker put enough effort into solving it, downvote. That's exactly what that button is for. But don't just downvote or vtc the cryptics because they're shorter than other, copied-and-pasted puzzles. And like other posts, cryptic questions can just as easily be high quality.

As I see it, most of your arguments could apply at least as much to all our chestnuts. Should we ban those too?

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I personally think that these are the types of mass-producible puzzles (which I'll call MPPs from here on out) that shouldn't be on-topic for this site, like posting a Sudoku or a crossword just for people to solve.

On the other hand, some of the cryptic questions haven't so much been challenges as much as "help I have this problem" questions, and the answer that I linked to specifically dealt with questions posted as challenges. So I'm kinda ambivalent.


Kevin's answer hits upon a point - what's so different between MPPs and chestnuts in relation to their quality? A lot of them are "no-effort" posts.

The reason I'm a supporter of chestnuts (although not when they overload the site like they did for a short period in the private beta) but not MPPs is the reason I posted in my linked answer - chestnuts are unique and fundamentally different from each other, and questions about them tend to have different strategies for solving them, not just different answers.

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    $\begingroup$ I'll agree with you that the questions that are not MPP are generally of higher quality, but I'm not sure it's quite at the point where we should actively disallow them. I'm going to post a question about this, because I think it is potentially going to be more helpful. $\endgroup$ – Aza May 31 '14 at 19:39
  • $\begingroup$ This hits the key point, in my opinion - the answers to the so-called "chestnuts" are different from each other vastly, not just relying on different vocabulary or setup. $\endgroup$ – Xynariz Jun 9 '14 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ What's the definition of "mass-producible"? If software develops which can turn out large numbers of crosswords of similar quality to those in the (London) Times (let's hope it doesn't), then some setters will try to raise their game. SE could become the leading go-to site for them. Indeed it could anyway. $\endgroup$ – h34 Jan 2 '15 at 4:56
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I think a fundamental problem with some of the questions being considered here is whether they are the sort of question to which there is precisely one correct answer. To these there can be no discussion, there can be no alternative, there can be no different explanation, no dissent, no scope for a "better answer".1 The riddle/brainteaser posts to which Gilles alludes must definitely fall into this category, and must for that same reason die.

By contrast, a cryptic crossword clue can have a "better answer" which explains the reasoning more clearly than another, while both answers are equally correct. By the same token, "I got stuck with my Sudoku at this layout, what next?" would be an invitation to find just one "next number", of which there could be several by dint of different attack strategies: "good" answers would explain the strategy. The downside to prompting that kind of Sudoku question is that it would be almost impossible to index such that future askers would ever find it.2

If puzzling.SE is to thrive then it must embrace the type of question to which there can be multiple, different, but equally correct answers (as well as "wrong" answers, but downvoting will take care of those in the usual way), but equally it must limit or perhaps even stop the more dangerous sort, the sort of question to which it's practically a race to type the answer first on account of there being no prize for second place.

TL;DR "solv ths clu plz kthxbai" which simply wants the answer is bad; "How can I approach this clue?" which wants to understand the strategy so future clues can also be tackled is good.


1 This would go against the very essence of Stack Exchange which is predicated upon the good answers rising to the top by being voted up and poorer answers sinking towards the bottom.

2 Now there's a real puzzle - solve that and you'd have a winner of a site!

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I think this is the kind of thing that needs to be played by ear. If such questions represent a small portion of the overall questions, I don't believe they are a significant concern, but this also isn't "cryptic.stackexchange.com"

We don't want unique and interesting questions to get lost in a barrage of generally uniform and routine questions, thus I would think that we want to discourage bulk use of the site for solving simple cryptic clues, but I'm not sure that outright prohibition is necessary as some may be genuinely really good puzzles in their own right (on rare occasion) and they may or may not become an actual problem.

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