The lateral-thinking tag is for sure one of the most controversial tags in the history of Puzzling. It was often criticized for its inaccurate description, ambiguous meaning, tendency to "mask" low quality puzzles and generate speculative answers. Recently, the brainteaser was burninated because it was considered a synonym of lateral-thinking. Personally, I haven't supported that removal, I actually don't mind because I prefer to focus the attention on another major issue regarding lateral-thinking: its nature, meaning and policy.
First of all, what do we mean by lateral-thinking?
According to the tag wiki, a lateral-thinking puzzle requires "thinking outside the box", a creative approach and, most important, a unique correct answer.
As you can see, the tag description seems to be pretty accurate, no way for different interpretations.
So, what's wrong with it, if not the description?
Probably the way people use (and abuse) it. Many users (especially new ones) tend to post extremely broad puzzles, marked with the lateral-thinking tag, without realizing that their problem allows several valid answers, none of these contradicting the original puzzle.
This tendency, inevitably, ruined the reputation of the tag, leading to a horrid bias of hate: questions marked with the lateral-thinking tag get an insane amount of downvotes, even if their quality is decent and admit only one reasonable answer (by "reasonable" I mean "logical, which makes sense and doesn't break physics laws).
I could provide examples of this behaviour, but I don't want to focus the attention on specific puzzles. If you feel that examples are required to support my thesis and continue this discussion, feel free to ask in the comments.
How do we these issues?
In my opinion, the only solution relies on a strict, clear new policy about lateral-thinking puzzles. In my opinion, the moderators, helped by the community, should establish, once for all, new accurate and explicit rules to handle the tons of lateral-thinking questions that get posted.
What are the options?
- All lateral-thinking questions are considered off-topic and do not belong to Puzzling. The tag must be deleted.
In this case, I would support the creation of a new SE lateral-thinking community in Area 51.
- The lateral-thinking tag deserves an exception to the rules. No lateral-thinking puzzles will nevermore be marked as "too broad" because that is an intrinsic feature of lateral-thinking questions.
- New guidelines must be written to tell low-quality lateral-thinking puzzles from good ones. Personally, this is my favourite option, the one I support.
If we choose the 3rd option, these are some of the features I'd like to see in the new policy:
- Lateral-thinking puzzles must not involve breaking physics laws (no portals, no black holes, no infinite dimensions).
- The problem must not rely on wordplays and puns.
- The language used to describe the problem must be particularly clear and shouldn't allow any misinterpretation.
- The author is obliged to to clarify any doubt posted by other users under his puzzle as soon as possible.
- Close-voting is
allowed(EDIT:) recommended only if you find at least two completely different plausible answers, and the author has been already notified about this duality.
In particular, this last point gives an opportunity to the author to edit his puzzle, isolate the right answer and preserving the quality of his question.
Of course, the above list is not complete. If you have any proposal, this is the right place to discuss about it. Share your opinion, decide the future of the lateral-thinking tag!