I've been struggling with a very interesting puzzle today, only to find out that the answer is very country-based, meaning that I, not being in the same country/culture of the OP, could not resolve it or at least start severely disadvantaged.

This has already happened before, but sometimes the issue is clearly stated in the question.

How can we deal with it? Should the OP state it clearly or not? Should we create an apposite tag like or similar?


To add some thinking: a big distinction has to be made between language, for instance idioms or puns, and culture, for example which kind of sentence is said during the festival that Osaka throws the first of july.

I think that the first is avoidable but not dangerous, a non native english speaker is disadvantaged but still can answer the question.

In the other hand, the latter, should be completely avoided or clearly stated. If I make a riddle about the type of pizzas sold in Naples I narrow too much the audience. The problem is that if I don't state that I'm talking about the Naples' pizzas, answers could involve Pizza Hut or the question will ask the users to find an answer that they can't find.

How or what defines the difference?

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  • $\begingroup$ "Should we create an apposite tag like country-based or similar?" - No, that would be a meta tag. $\endgroup$ – Doorknob May 7 '15 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Doorknob I see your point. There should be a tag for each country then, like english-culture or japanese-culture, but I think it would be counterproductive. $\endgroup$ – Narmer May 7 '15 at 16:00

This particular riddle is not country-based. It simply assumes a knowledge of the English language.

You only need to know the two idioms bite the bullet and silver bullet. I think that for a question, it's reasonable to expect a certain amount of fluency in English - much as for a question you would expect to need a certain amount of maths, and for a question you should expect to have to understand the basics of probability before you were able to solve it.

Your frustration is completely understandable, and I'm sure we can all relate. However, saying, "How was I to know that the English for stringere i denti is bite the bullet?" is a bit like saying "How was I to know a pawn can sometimes move behind my pawn to capture it?" on a chess puzzle - it may well be an advanced feature of the skill domain, but that's sort of the point of puzzling, isn't it?

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't agree. Is not like there are two kind of chess, while there are two kind of idioms. Also the figurative image is completely different, while the meaning is the same. Same goes for math and probability. Maybe the linked question is not the perfect fit for the issue, but I think I made a point. Also look to the edit in the question $\endgroup$ – Narmer May 8 '15 at 15:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Namer If you're going to arbitrarily divide idioms into "literal idioms" (of which there are few, btw) and "figurative idioms", then I could equally divide pawn capture into "normal pawn capture (diagonally taking a piece)" and "en passant". $\endgroup$ – starsplusplus May 8 '15 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ Well, thats exactly my point. To take it to an extreme meaning, what if I create a pun with the word arrocco (castling in italian) and asked for an answer? Obviously the complain would be that the answer was in italian, what makes it different from an idiom? If in Barbados castling is referred as hiding behind the tower and I make a pun with it, how and why it is different? $\endgroup$ – Narmer May 8 '15 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Narmer The complaint would be that the answer was in Italian, because you are on an English site and wrote your riddle in English. If you were on an Italian site and wrote your riddle in Italian, I'm sure people would think it was a great riddle. $\endgroup$ – starsplusplus May 8 '15 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ Well, that's what I said. What I'm looking for is an answer to the second question, if there is no complain I would assume we are in a Barbados site and wrote the riddle in Barbadossian (which appears to be english by chance) $\endgroup$ – Narmer May 8 '15 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ @AE It was a bad wording choice. The english by chance was intended to mean I'm writing in Bajan language, which luckily for you is english (altough slightly different) and you can understand it. In no way at all that sentence wanted to denigrate or delegitimate Bajan english or any other english based language. I'm sorry if it was understood in that way or if anyone got offended by it. $\endgroup$ – Narmer May 15 '15 at 9:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Narmer oh I see! No worries. Don't worry, no offence caused. :) $\endgroup$ – A E May 15 '15 at 9:53

Well, I've got a couple of thoughts on this...

  • If a puzzle relies on knowledge of a language other than English, then (in my view) in order for it to be a good puzzle which is fair to the solver, there ought to be some kind of indication of that in the puzzle itself - it could be a pretty cryptic indication, I see no need for a tag or anything so obvious as that.

    And a puzzle without such an indication wouldn't (again this is just my opinion) be something we ought to delete as off-topic, it just wouldn't be as good a puzzle as one which is fairer to the solver because it does contain such an indication.

    I'd actually make an exception for really simple puzzles such as the recent 'circle' puzzle, because once you twig to the crucial fact that it relies on vocabulary from a non-English language, then you've basically solved the puzzle - that's it - there's almost nothing more to do. But maybe the author has gone in the right direction by putting a hint in spoiler tags, so that puzzlers can choose for themselves whether to reveal it.

  • I have absolutely no problem at all with elements of culture from countries where English is not the native language being included in puzzles.

    If we exclude these then we exclude most of world culture! In my puzzles I've referenced Inuit and Native American mythology, for example.

    It would be a real shame not to be able to do that, or not to be able to reference, because they're not originally in English, Homer or Virgil or Dante or Tolstoy or ... you get the picture.

  • English is an international language.

    There are more non-native English speakers than there are native English speakers; the majority of native English speakers do not speak the same English as is spoken in England (e.g. because they're American or Scottish); within England there is a significant variety of English usage across regions, social classes, etc.

    There is no list of 'official' English words (in this, English is unlike some other languages, such as French for example, which have a central authority which dictates which words are part of the language and which are not).

    So if Bajan (Barbadian) English did have a specific word for swapping the rook and the knight which was different from the word 'castling' used here in London, then that word would in no sense be invalid or inferior English - just as within England, the Norfolk word 'staithe' is neither 'better' nor 'worse' English than its London equivalent, 'wharf'.

    The usual source considered authoritative for the English language is the OED (which contains many words not used in England), but there's a lot of neologisms not yet in the OED - I think tl;dr is a good example.

    So I don't think we should restrict ourselves to any one particular form or type or dialect of English - doing so would in any case be a very tricky proposition to police.

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    $\begingroup$ I completely agree with you in every word of your answer. FWIW the first bullet answers very well what this question was about (should we do something about this? Has the OP to state he has peculiar references in his question?) with a well explained NO with reservations in spoiler tags. Finally an answer and not just a deal with it you whiner. Let's wait for some feedback. $\endgroup$ – Narmer May 15 '15 at 9:36
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @Narmer! :) $\endgroup$ – A E May 15 '15 at 9:39

Accept that you cannot understand every reference in the world and move on past the answer or learn something about a culture other than your own.

Riddle - three lines are crossing here! and Guess the book character are great examples of riddles based on cultural references.

In the first, the answer came from a knowledge of a lesser known web browser, french metro stops, and other cultural references. The latter is in reference to works by Tolkien.

Look at the comments on the accepted answer for the first question posted. The person who supplied the winning answer stated that the riddle might have been easier to solve had the references not been to French culture. That being said, this person took it as a challenge to learn something new about culture that is not their own.

You may need to ask yourself are you here to learn more about riddles and spend some time solving interesting new ones, or are you here to earn fake internet points and get green checkmarks?

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  • $\begingroup$ This is probably easier for someone in France. Americans (like me) aren't familiar with opera cake, opera rats, or the Metro lines. But the other clues were familiar. and Isn't it more of a trivia than a puzzle? Basically if we don't read the same books as you, we don't have a chance of knowing. are two comments in the linked riddles that point out exactly what I mean in this question. I see it as an issue to discuss, your accusation on fake internet points is irrelevant and I'm here to solve riddles. If, by chance, I can learn something new about another culture, I'm only happy about it. $\endgroup$ – Narmer May 11 '15 at 11:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Narmer but no matter what you do, you won't never know everything. For sure you can argue it is unfair to you because you are missing some background on some subject. But no riddle would fit everybody's background. So deal with it. $\endgroup$ – A.D. May 13 '15 at 3:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Narmer You have quoted the exact line I referenced in my point. Instead of getting upset that they couldn't solve the riddle with the knowledge they have on hand, the person in the three lines challenge took a chance to learn about a culture other than their own. If you are here solely for the sake of solving riddles, then you wouldn't care about being disadvantaged. Most all the riddles mark the answer with a spoiler tag, so you can still attempt to solve it before you look at the accepted answer. For someone purely solving riddles, there is no disadvantage. $\endgroup$ – tfitzger May 15 '15 at 16:55

All Stack Exchange network is english based, so when dealing with a question you know that the english-culture nature is implied.

This means that the question could have an answer in english based countries folklore or culture (USA, UK, Australia, Canada...)

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  • $\begingroup$ And there is a tag already for e.g. japanese. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor May 8 '15 at 8:54
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    $\begingroup$ @randal'thor yep, what about Russia, Italy, Spain, South Africa... is this a solution? What if there is a riddle that only the Cameroon English speakers can solve? Maybe about the main dish of the country or an idiom said only there... $\endgroup$ – Narmer May 8 '15 at 13:07
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    $\begingroup$ Not all of the SE network is English-language, but Puzzling.SE is. Still, that doesn't (IMO) mean that puzzles can't or shouldn't use cultural information or context from cultures where English is not the native language - in fact many of my puzzles already have. $\endgroup$ – A E May 15 '15 at 8:51

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