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We all love Puzzling Stack Exchange, but there is a whole world of people out there who need answers to their questions and don't even know that this site exists. When they arrive from Google, what will their first impression be? Let's try to look at this site through the eyes of someone who's never seen it before, and see how we stack up against the rest of the 'Net.

The Site Self-Evaluation review queue is open and populated with 10 questions that were asked and answered in the last quarter. Run a few Google searches to see how easy they are to find and compare the answers we have with the information available on other sites.

Rating the questions is only a part of the puzzle, though. Do you see a pattern of questions that should have been closed but are not? Questions or answers that could use an edit? Anything that's going really well? Post an answer below to share your thoughts and discuss these questions and the site's health with your fellow users!

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    $\begingroup$ For more information, see this question. Also, please take your time with this. This feedback can be very valuable, but only if we take the time to make it so. $\endgroup$ – Aza May 23 '15 at 3:17
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Foreword / note: as per How can we make the most of our upcoming site self evaluations?, I am essentially disregarding the suggested evaluation method and instead evaluating the questions and answers based upon their other merits (which is one of the main reasons I'm posting such an in-depth evaluation of each question here).


Riddle - Socks that may or may not be puppets

Satisfactory—This is a nice, short and concise riddle. However, it could be a bit more specific, as shown by the nine separate, unique answers. It is also a rather plain riddle, with not much setting it apart from other puzzles that have been posed on Puzzling Stack Exchange and on other sites.

Birthdays celebrated in wrong order

Excellent—Was considering giving this one a Satisfactory, as the question and some answers had several formatting/comment issues, but they weren't too glaring and I've edited them into shape. The main factor that sort of "tipped the scale" on this one was @egmont's exceptional answer, which goes even beyond what the original question asked.

Sherlock Holmes is at a Party

Satisfactory—The question, a unique and interesting problem that's also very clearly posed and laid out, is easily an Excellent. However, without a doubt, the answers section could have had much more elaboration and involved explanations. The single answer is clear to someone who understands the concepts, but it's a little light on the details, and might be hard to comprehend for someone who's never heard of a binary tree before.

Riddle inspired by House of Lies intro

Satisfactory—A nice and fun riddle, but again (and this seems to be a recurring theme), there's nothing that really sets it apart from other riddles on this site or elsewhere on the Internet. There's no distinguishing feature that makes the question not just good but extraordinary. Extraordinary is what we want; we don't want Puzzling Stack Exchange to become just another one of "those websites with a bunch of puzzles and stuff." Plenty of those already exist, and instead of simply filling up the site with riddles, perhaps something to set this site apart from all the rest would be beneficial.

Let's break PolynumCrypt

Excellent—This is a very nicely and clearly written question, and all three answers are very descriptive and succinctly yet clearly explain the solution. The premise of the question is not only thought-provoking (with a clever solution that seems obvious once you figure it out anyway), but one that I haven't seen elsewhere before. My only minor gripe is the somewhat non-descriptive title, but I just realized I've completely forgotten to judge the titles of the other posts here, so I'll let that slide.

Clash of arrows

Satisfactory—Really wanted to give this one an Excellent because of the extremely well-written answer (don't think that part needs any further elaboration). However, it's very borderline "math problem"-type question, and simply the fact that I was considering actually migrating it to Math.SE is enough to bump it down to Satisfactory.

Green Eyed Oracle Variant - Not a Multiple of $17$

Excellent—All in all, I see nothing wrong with this post. Both the question and the answer are very well-written and clearly explained. It is based on a common and already well-known premise, but it's a twist that I haven't seen before, and interesting nonetheless. Almost a Satisfactory because, again, it's just a "plain old puzzle," but that's really the only problem that I can see here.

Riddle: A simple world for me

Satisfactory—Yet again, I feel like this falls in a similar category as post #4 in this list. (It also has a few more distinct possible answers than I would like it to have.) It's a good riddle, but (and I feel like I'm continually repeating myself here) it's ordinary and not too remarkable. Observation: The fact that this seems to be such a persistent observation is possibly a sign that Puzzling.SE is simply becoming "site on the Internet with puzzles on it, #29358202," and (again, as mentioned in #4) as a Stack Exchange site, that's not what we want.

Sudoku net that is always solvable

Excellent—A very well-written question, and the answers are excellent, build upon each other, and improve upon one another. This question also actually has a descriptive title! (Although again, I've been slacking on the titles this whole time.) Not much else to describe here; there are no glaring problems that I could find.

Can you create a Minesweeper puzzle with 'information crossover'?

Needs Improvement—This was very very close to a Satisfactory. However: 1.) The question was a bit unclear. I had to read over it several times before fully understanding what it was asking. 2.) The answers are severely lacking in detail and description. The top answer does provide a proper solution, but it says a bit less about how the solution was produced than I'd like.


I would write up a summary, but it's getting really late here. I may or may not do so tomorrow.

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Following Doorknob's footsteps, I wrote up an explanation of my review of each question. Like Doorknob, I'm disregarding the stated criteria. I'm instead judging by the value I think it adds to the site as a collection of puzzles. I imagine whether I would show the puzzle to a friend who is into that category of puzzle.

I'm being rather blunt and terse in my judgments, so I hope you don't think me too harsh. To give a critical evaluation, I am holding puzzles to a much higher standard than I use in voting.


Sudoku net that is always solvable

Satisfactory: The puzzle is appealing, interesting, and well-stated. The title conveys the content well, and the term net is effective. The answers, however, are lacking. They claim that their nets work without demonstrating that they do.

Riddle inspired by House of Lies intro

Needs improvement: A weak riddle. The clues are vague rather than tricky ("Riddles are not people"?). Some lines are totally unhelpful, yet others are too direct ("I'll confuse you with my words and make you think you don't know!"). I don't imagine someone who solves this riddle to feel clever in doing so. Moreover, the whole "riddles about riddles" thing is well-worn ground, and this one doesn't stand out.

The title emphasizes House of Lies, but there's no riddle connection, which is bad for findability as well as theme. Maybe I'd appreciate the cadence of the riddle if I knew the opening, but I wasn't able to find the intro referenced online -- a link would have helped. The accepted answer is solid.

Can you create a Minesweeper puzzle with 'information crossover'?

Needs improvement: A fascinating puzzle that suffers from poor presentation. The statement is confusing, and I didn't understand it at first even though I was already familiar with planar crossover gadgets. The title is good for motivating why were care about such a construction, but it needs to be explained further. The answers also lack explanation.

(Edit: I noticed afterward that the puzzle had been edited a bit to clarify after I originally read it, which would bring it to Satisfactory. I should have reread it rather than remembering my impressions.)

Green Eyed Oracle Variant - Not a Multiple of 17

Excellent: An interesting twist that brings something new to a classic. Likely to be of interest to someone familiar with this genre of puzzle, but also points to background for those to are not. The puzzle is well-stated and reads smoothly. The accepted answer is both thorough and readable. Rather than using formal induction, it lays out the pattern for small cases, which is much easier to follow.

Clash of arrows

Needs improvement: A non-puzzle that does not belong on this site. While interesting as a mathematical problem, it is liable to trap someone looking for a clever puzzle into a frustrating mess of algebra.

The top answer is a truly exceptional effort to answer the math question, though even it notes "It is my opinion that the math gets too complicated for this to be considered a 'puzzle.'" It doesn't come up with an explicit answer (probably because there isn't one), but does give an integral expression and a Monte-Carlo estimate for it.

Sherlock Holmes is at a Party

Needs improvement: A functional but unappealing puzzle. It's well-stated, but the needed setup is too tedious to explain what turns out to be a standard algorithm of computer science. The shtick with high-fives and interviews doesn't help elucidate the setup, and the choice of names is gratuitous and distracting. The title could be more useful. The answer is a bit too terse and formal.

Birthdays celebrated in wrong order

Excellent Clever and concise. The accepted answer explains the solution well, and a second answer extends the puzzle and solution.

Riddle: A simple world for me

Satisfactory: A good riddle, close to Excellent. The riddle effectively builds on an a metaphor of keys on a keyboard, making the whole thing feel cohesive. Understanding it creates a great "Aha!". The clues are clever and specific. The answer thorough explains how each line fits.

As to why I don't rate it Excellent, though I don't see any faults in the riddle, neither do I see anything exceptional that makes it stand out from many other great riddles on this site.

Let's break PolynumCrypt

Needs improvement: A well-stated puzzle that feels disappointing to solve. Most of the solving effort is simply understanding what the algorithm is doing, and there's little cleverness or insight in doing the "decryption", just the effort of writing the code. Encoding in a base is standard and familiar; this brings nothing new to the table. The clue "polynumcrypt(pass,1) = 1253" is irrelevant.

The puzzle statement is well-presented and enjoyable to read. The answers explain the solution well. This could almost be Satisfactory but for the lack of something new and special.

Riddle - Socks that may or may not be puppets

Satisfactory A clever riddle. The wordplay is delightful, and each clue gets at the answer from a different angle. The accepted answer does a good job explaining. That the other answer seems to fit equally well suggests that the riddle is underclued. The riddle itself is fairly bland in style and reads a bit awkwardly.

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Final Results

Net Score: 30 (Excellent: 34, Satisfactory: 17, Needs Improvement: 4)


Net Score: 30 (Excellent: 33, Satisfactory: 20, Needs Improvement: 3)


Net Score: 28 (Excellent: 32, Satisfactory: 22, Needs Improvement: 4)


Net Score: 25 (Excellent: 30, Satisfactory: 19, Needs Improvement: 5)


Net Score: 22 (Excellent: 25, Satisfactory: 25, Needs Improvement: 3)


Net Score: 11 (Excellent: 21, Satisfactory: 19, Needs Improvement: 10)


Net Score: 8 (Excellent: 15, Satisfactory: 32, Needs Improvement: 7)


Net Score: 3 (Excellent: 15, Satisfactory: 30, Needs Improvement: 12)


Net Score: 1 (Excellent: 12, Satisfactory: 33, Needs Improvement: 11)


Net Score: -1 (Excellent: 13, Satisfactory: 21, Needs Improvement: 14)


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  • $\begingroup$ A lot of our lower rated questions are interestingly contentious. I wonder why? $\endgroup$ – Aza May 31 '15 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Emrakul Scanning the review lists, I got the impression that some reviewers marked pretty much everything excellent while some were much more critical, so this could be attributed as much to differing review styles as to differences of opinion towards specific puzzles. $\endgroup$ – xnor Jun 1 '15 at 8:36
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Well that made me feel really mean. Nothing got excellent because they all seemed to tick at least one of the boxes for "satisfactory", or "needs improvement."

Doorknob summed it up well:

Extraordinary is what we want; we don't want Puzzling Stack Exchange to become just another one of "those websites with a bunch of puzzles and stuff."

While most of the puzzles were reasonably good the better ones were difficult to search for or had a lack of clarity in either the question or answer that meant I couldn't rate them excellent.

As the question suggests:

Let's try to look at this site through the eyes of someone who's never seen it before,

Some of the answers assumed too much existing knowledge from the reader, a knowledge of related puzzles of information that wasn't fully explained in either the questions or answers.

Now I feel unduly judgemental because the puzzles were in general quite good, but the criteria sets the bar so high only a handful of the best puzzles on the site seem likely to reach it.

I think part of the problem is that unless a puzzle exists outside this site (or is related to such as puzzle) it will be either "not generally useful" or require "oddly specific search terms to find."

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