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As a primarily puzzle-as-challenge site, we face some unique challenges working in the SE framework because of the ways our site's philosophy differs from usual. Many things are the same, but the differences are likely to be where we find gaps in the features of SE for our purposes.

I think it would be a useful exercise to write down these differences and note some of their consequences and how we can best make them work. This is meant to focus on challenge questions; questions about puzzles are much like in other SE's.

Please post one difference per answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ All the answers (so far) deal only with challenge questions and answers thereto. There are some other questions - which aren't too different from those on other SEs, so maybe not relevant to this post - but maybe you should edit the question a bit to restrict the topic to challenge questions? $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Apr 3 '15 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ @randal'thor Fair point, I'll edit. $\endgroup$ – xnor Apr 3 '15 at 23:41

12 Answers 12

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Questioners are being altruistic

On most Stack Exchange sites, people post questions because they have encountered a problem or question they don't know the answer to. They ask a question in order to receive an answer.*

On Puzzling Stack Exchange, people frequently post puzzles to be enjoyed by others. Making puzzles takes effort. Making and posting a puzzle is, largely, a charitable act. People are driven for it by a desire to show off their puzzles and to build the community, not to receive an answer for their question.

However, it is worth noting that questions are acceptable when someone doesn't know the answer - for instance, when tackling a puzzle they've encountered in the wild, and need help or guidance.

As a consequence, it's important for us to be appreciative of the work of puzzle-posters and to keep them happy and motivated. The health of the site depends on them.

Another consequence is that we're unlikely to run into the help-vampire problem affecting many Stack Exchange sites.

*With the exception of self-answered questions.

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    $\begingroup$ Really the only way to show appreciation for a puzzle is to upvote that question. If there's nothing wrong with a puzzle and you think it's a good puzzle for the site, then upvote it. Also, if you post an answer to a question, then you should probably upvote the question too. Because if you bothered to take the time to post an answer, then chances are you found the puzzle at least somewhat interesting. Questions usually don't get as much love as answers (not to mention that each question upvote is only worth half as much as an answer upvote), so they should really be upvoted if they are good. $\endgroup$ – pacoverflow Apr 4 '15 at 17:47
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    $\begingroup$ I seem to remember there was a period of time when upvotes on questions were worth +10 reputation on Meta Stack Exchange. Maybe implement that on PPCG and here? $\endgroup$ – Joe Z. Apr 5 '15 at 9:12
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeZ. We asked for that on PPCG and took it to Meta but it got declined. $\endgroup$ – xnor Apr 5 '15 at 9:24
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    $\begingroup$ I guess questions are sand even here. Perhaps I'll take my more elaborate riddles elsewhere. $\endgroup$ – Joe Z. Apr 5 '15 at 9:50
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeZ. and xnor: I wonder if they would implement a bounty feature for awarding good questions. $\endgroup$ – pacoverflow Apr 6 '15 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ To be honest, it doesn't faze me that much that puzzles here are only worth +5; my answers tend to get more votes than my questions anyway, and I have more than twice as many answers as I do questions. $\endgroup$ – Joe Z. Apr 14 '15 at 2:00
  • $\begingroup$ "Questioners are being altruistic" is a very positive way to put it. But yeah, the roles have switched here, answerers are selfish and questioners can indeed be altruistic. $\endgroup$ – David Mulder Apr 16 '15 at 14:53
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Questioners already know the answer

Questioners posting a challenge presumably already know the solution. They are posting it for others to enjoy solving the puzzles.

As a consequence, a link to an existing solution is less helpful. The goal isn't to give the poster a solution, but to have an enjoyable contest of finding one yourself.

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Questioners should not self-answer their own challenges immediately

On most Stack Exchange sites, it is acceptable and even encouraged for questioners to answer their own questions. In fact, when asking a question, the bottom of the page allows you to check a box saying "Answer your own question – share your knowledge, Q&A-style".

However, on Puzzling.SE, many members of the community frown upon a challenge question that is self-answered immediately. These members think that challenges are meant to be solved by the community, and they don't see the point in a challenge that has already been answered by the questioner.

Of course, if a challenge remains unsolved by the community after a certain amount of time, then the questioner may choose to provide hints, offer a bounty, or even self-answer the challenge. Self-answering a challenge after a reasonable amount of time has passed is acceptable.

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Questioners omit crucial information

Puzzles are posted without the solution. This is unlike a typical SE where posters are encouraged to post their thoughts, progress, and any relevant information.

This makes it harder to judge the clarity and quality of a posted question. Also, posters might decline a request to clarify some of their puzzle if they think it gives too much away.

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The correct answer is often the absolute last word on the page.

This springs from a combination of the facts that challenges should admit only one solution and that the question-poser already knows it. Once that solution is posted, especially for problems where it's a very particular word or phrase -- cryptograms and some riddles -- nothing more can be said.

This contrasts strongly with most other sites. On a site where questions are problems for, rather than by, the asker, it's rare that there aren't at least two different views on the solution. This is true whether it's Cooking, Stack Overflow, or even English Language and Usage. For a programming issue, a new solution might appear over time. An answerer could find the question in a year or two and mention that "X feature is now a better way to do this: <demo code>", for example. Changes in technique can happen with cooking, woodworking, home repair, or any other field.

Even in a Code Golf challenge -- since PPCG is the closest to this site in terms of question form -- where the goal is to accomplish a task in the smallest amount of computer code, it's at least feasible that a new answer could steal the crown. (Popularity and other contests on that site are limited in their late-answerability, but artificially, by refusing to consider posts after a certain time.)

The only opening for new answers on many posts here seems to be (warning: shameless links to my own examples) when the original or accepted answer is lacking in explanation or is correct but not exhaustive. These are possibilities on other sites as well, but here they seem to the sole way for late answerers to contribute to the page, once a correct solution has been posted.

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Questioners need skill in the subject

On most SE's, people ask questions because they don't know something in the subject. So, they are expected to be missing relevant knowledge. Their question needs to be clear and well-formulated, but not show expertise on the topic.

Here, questioners produce content by posting puzzles to be enjoyed by others. Solvers want the puzzles to be interesting and fun. So, this creates a higher bar for questioners in the relevant skill of making puzzles.

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Voting on questions may not reflect the worth of a question

See the related meta discussion: Voting on surface appearance .

This is related to the point regarding altruism: questions are more for the enjoyment of the answerer than the asker. Ideally, puzzle voting should indicate how enjoyable a puzzle is, and not whether the puzzle merely sounds good. The link details some consequences of this.

On the other hand, this may primarily be only a problem before a puzzle is answered or accepted. After that, it would seem rather unusual for someone to navigate to the question and vote before reading the answer(s).

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Answerers want to be told if they have the correct answer

Where as in other parts of Stack Exchange the answerers provide information they believe to be correct and are discouraged from simply having a guess or offering what is little more than an opinion, here they may just be offering what they hope is a correct answer without always knowing if their answer is correct.

Because of this answerers will want to be told by the questioner if they've got it wrong. This is in contrast to the normal situation where the questioner will choose the answer they prefer but may not know in advance what will constitute a satisfactory answer, and may not feel the need to pass any kind of judgement less useful answers.

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Answerers might avoid reading other posts

People who want to solve a puzzle for themselves might avoid reading other posted answers so as not to spoil themselves. They might even post their answer without having read others'. They might want other answers spoilered to make this easier.

This is different from most SE's where one is encouraged to read other answers immediately.

As a consequence, we're likelier to get multiple redundant answers.

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    $\begingroup$ I disagree with this one. People should read the existing answers (IMO) to ensure they don't post duplicates. There's another meta post about this somewhere... $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Apr 3 '15 at 23:27
  • $\begingroup$ @randal'thor I'm not saying they should, but that this is something that happens. $\endgroup$ – xnor Apr 4 '15 at 0:04
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    $\begingroup$ I usually read all the existing answers myself before posting my own, unless I knew the answer immediately and forgot to do so. $\endgroup$ – Joe Z. Apr 5 '15 at 9:12
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Downvoting thorough but incorrect solutions is unnecessary, and even a little harsh

On other sites down voting answers has a clear purpose because the Questioner is typically looking for a correct answer and needs the help of the community to weed out the inaccurate responses.

Here on Puzzling the Questioner usually knows the answer and doesn't need this feedback to decide which answer to accept, and when an answer is someone's best guess it seems a bit mean to vote against it no matter how obvious it may seem that it's wrong.

They say you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, so I guess my point is up vote good answer, leave encouraging comments for the wrong answers. Even if those comments are only to let the answerer know they are wide of the mark.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a good point for answers that make a serious attempt at answering the question, even if it's wildly wrong. But there are a lot of taking-the-piss answers on PSE (as referred to in the other Meta question you just answered) which really deserve DVs but often get multi-UVed just for being funny. Check out the answers to this question to see what I mean. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Apr 15 '15 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ Wow there were a lot! I think that question was a bit too open ended. It did get closed for being too broad and Its difficult to imagine that there is serious answer that would actually work. I get your point though. Once enough people have jumped on the funny answer bandwagon there's not much that can stop it rolling. I think part of the problem their was the questioner didn't know the answer. $\endgroup$ – Bob Apr 15 '15 at 16:02
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Not a repository of knowledge

I don't have statistics, but I am pretty sure this site generates far lower amounts of Google traffic than other sites. The same puzzles get asked, re-asked, and asked again in slightly different forms and knowledge about puzzling can not really be found here (despite officially being on topic).

Not about helping each other

The top answer puts this in a very positive light, but no matter how you put it, the reality is that unlike all other sites on SE except codegolf.SE this site is not about helping each other (despite officially being on topic).

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We're a bit like the Game of Life

This one. Not that one.

More so than most of StackExchange sites, a lot of questions (or features of questions) come not from outside influences* but are inspired by/built on puzzles that have come before. Conventions, tricks and puzzle types are used, noticed and incorporated into the larger community as it evolves.

Of course, just like the Game of Life, sometimes there are cells that appear on the board, have a massive burst of growth, then peter out into 'dead end' oscillators, going no further. Rebus puzzles would probably be the most recent example of that. But the rest of the board keeps moving, and maybe they'll be picked up and incorporated or modified for use in something we can't even see coming yet.

There's far more of a sense of continuity here, with series of questions, and quite a few 'regulars'. You can spot familiar traits and tropes (or be fooled by them!) even as the board changes, and tracing them back feels like following a chain, rather than just a collection of random, unrelated questions.

*E.g. Someone encountering a problem, or having a genuine query.

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