# Is it a good practice to give "wrong" answers to ill-posed questions?

Looking at this puzzle (Connect 3 houses with 3 wells) I can see that the most voted answers are those who on purpose misuse the lack of detail of the question.
In this example, it's pretty obvious what's the sense of the puzzle even if it misses some details (i.e. the fact that each house must be connected to each well using a different pipe, and taht pipes cannot cross the wells) that would have been necessary to avoid misunderstandings (intentional and casual ones).

My question is: is it fair to give "wrong" answers to ill-posed questions, rather than editing them or suggesting some corrections/additions to them?

• In regard to the "3 houses 3 wells" problem -- I think the vagueness is what makes these puzzles interesting. In a real-world solution, you would not treat the houses as endpoints, you would continue a pipe past a house and onto the next house it needed to reach. Like you said, there are some intentional misunderstandings here that lead to "wrong" answers, but, in my opinion, these kinds of answers (usually) lead to a healthier range of acceptable answers. In the event that a question is lacking many details, it shouldn't be allowed to stay open to answering. Jul 2 '15 at 13:11
• @Curmudgeon You should probably post that as an answer. Jul 2 '15 at 14:42
• I was going to say that was a lateral-thinking question, but then I found that he was trying to look for a genuine answer.
– user88
Jul 2 '15 at 15:42
• A very, very related question (copied from the answer below, but it's relevant here too)
– user20
Jul 2 '15 at 21:25
• @Emrakul: the discussion you linked really interesting but, IMHO, slightly different from the problem I'm talking about. Answers I'm discussing about are not "stupid" or "trolling" ones (which I agree should be downoted/deleted), but plausible - and often smart - answers that misuse some "bug" of the questions. And sometimes I feel that users love this answers much more than canonical ones (so there's no hope that such answers can be downvoted...) Jul 3 '15 at 7:48
• Briefly, I can't stand reading answers that make me think: "Come on! This is clearly NOT what the OP wanted as an answer!". And watching them upvoted as they were the right answer... Sometimes I think that the real dilemma is: "Who can say what is actually right or wrong?". But maybe this is a more philosphical question than a puzzling one... ;) Jul 3 '15 at 7:53
• @Hunter That's fair, but they come from a similar place: recognizing the intent of the author, then discarding it. I'm not sure it's a problem with the answers as much as it is the questions, though... because they aren't wrong answers, which makes it hard to justify deletion. Still an open issue, and I like meta posts like these for addressing them.
– user20
Jul 3 '15 at 7:53

I'm going to put forward a slightly more qualified version of Curmudgeon's response and suggest that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this issue.

I've seen cases where a way-off-the-beaten-path solution is funny, poignant, thought-provoking, instructive, corrective, and/or otherwise worthy of reading. I've also seen solutions that qualify as vote-baiting detritus with no place on a serious puzzling site.

I consider 'abuse' to be cases where all of the following conditions hold true:

• the solution lacks any true wit; these are precisely the hackneyed answers Emrakul was talking about

• the solution egregiously violates the unstated assumptions in the problem

• the "quirk" in the solution belies the necessity of most/all of the information given in the problem statement

'Abusive' solutions earn my rare downvotes, especially in cases where a question is replete with them, and especially if the solution is a one-liner that could be a comment instead.

Off-the-beaten-path solutions earn my upvotes if they succeed in intriguing me, making me laugh, or otherwise entertaining me. I'm not going to hold off based on some puritan notion of always-colour-inside-the-lines quality standard.

Any solution that's neither here nor there I leave alone.

• Talking about real examples, how would you judge the most voted answers of the question I linked in my question (one of the 3 most voted is mine...)? Referring to the cases you stated, I think that the first condition is sufficient to consider a question abusive (and, IMHO, it's the same for each of the three conditions you stated) Jul 6 '15 at 8:40
• @Hunter: I don't see anything wrong with any of the upvoted answers there. Your toroidal space solution is neat; the idea that the wells aren't vertices is neat; the simplicity of Plutor's solution is neat; Anon's solution is the only place where the bipartite $K_{3,3}$ graph is mentioned, and that's relevant. Even most of the low-vote/negative-vote solutions are reasonable. The only one I don't like is the "line going through a house" since it adds nothing new to existing solutions. Let's face it: the puzzle is tagged [lateral-thinking] and the OP makes no attempt to constrain the solutions.
– COTO
Jul 6 '15 at 11:56
• I didn't notice the lateral thinking tag before; by the way, I still think that the OP was looking for a "real" solution to the puzzle, that of course does not exist, and not for a lateral one (that's why I dont consider the most upvoted answers actually honest...) Jul 6 '15 at 13:04

Elaborating a bit on my comment above:

I think it's mostly okay for a question intending for a "traditional" answer to receive controversial answers that exploit missing pieces from the question.

In regard to the "3 houses 3 wells" problem -- I think the vagueness is what makes these puzzles interesting. In a real-world solution, you would not treat the houses as endpoints, you would continue a pipe past a house and onto the next house it needed to reach.

Like you said, though, there are some intentional misunderstandings in that question that lead to "wrong" answers. Don't get me wrong, I definitely think the way that particular question was asked could be improved upon slightly to stop answers like this one from showing up, which are clearly not what the user intended, but it's not our job to remove answers like that just because they aren't what the user wanted. That answer is (arguably) not wrong!

But, in general, I think these kinds of answers (usually) lead to a healthier range of interesting and acceptable answers. In the event that a question is lacking many details, it shouldn't be allowed to stay open to answering.