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I made a puzzle which has been put on hold as too broad. It seems to me that the community got into the misconception that it's a vast number of possible things (which it isn't) or that the answer is very long (which it isn't).

To clarify - the answer is less than five words (I'm not saying the exact number of words because I don't want to create a spoiler). Is there a moderator that can get the answer from me and validate its excellency?

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Generally, if a puzzle is put on hold as being "too broad," it is because there are too many potential answers that fit with the clues. You obviously have one specific answer in mind, but perhaps you have failed to sufficiently constrain the answer space so as to invalidate other potential answers.

One good way to avoid this problem is to include some clues that are plays on words or use a different meaning of the word.

For example, suppose I posted a riddle as follows:

Tall and wooden,
I move in the breeze
Flashing my colors
I stand there with ease

Now, my intended answer is a tree in the autumn, but an equally valid interpretation might be a flagpole and flag.

To narrow it down, I could add further hints (something about "branches", maybe), but I always run the risk of there being other things that still fit the description.

A better option is to use a play on words, which will only be relevant to my intended answer and is much more likely to invalidate any other answer, because it requires a specific word/words to make it work:

One certain type at the seashore is found (beach/beech)
Another type after a fire is drowned (ash)

With these added lines, the flagpole answer is completely invalidated, as is any other answer that shares only physical characteristics with the first stanza. It is now much more likely that any reasonable answer will at least come close to my intended answer.


What it comes down to is that crafting a good riddle is more than saying "guess what I'm thinking of!" It requires some careful crafting and perhaps "trickery" to narrow down prospective solutions.

When someone finds the answer, they should be saying, "Aha! That's obviously it! It fits all the clues like so...". They should not be saying, "I think this is it, because it mostly matches the clues...".

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  • $\begingroup$ That's kind of obvious from the desription of too broad. I just don't understand how that apply to my question. But I guess I might add some spoilers. $\endgroup$ Feb 22 '16 at 18:35
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    $\begingroup$ @KonradViltersten I answered how it applies to your question in the second sentence: "...perhaps you have failed to sufficiently constrain the answer space so as to invalidate other potential answers." $\endgroup$
    – GentlePurpleRain Mod
    Feb 22 '16 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe it's a case of lost in translation but I don't see it. I've checked the question again and as far I can tell it's not broad at all; it doesn't fit into the definition of the reason of on-hold. I'm asking how your point apply to my question, not how it might apply hypothetically if my question was different. I simply don't see how the actually asked question is too broad. (I can see how a question could be but not how this particular one is.) Care to point out specifics that I can turn as actionable items to change, please? $\endgroup$ Feb 22 '16 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ @KonradViltersten An analysis of your particular puzzle would probably fit better on the main site than on meta, but a couple of observations: The accepted answer is email. But one clue refers to "creating it with a feather", which is actually about snail-mail letters, not email. Another clue refers to electricity, not to email. (I understand that electricity is required for email, but that's not how the clue is phrased.) Since not every line refers directly to the word being guessed, the "accepted" solution doesn't seem to match much better than other solutions. Just my observation. $\endgroup$
    – GentlePurpleRain Mod
    Feb 22 '16 at 22:34
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    $\begingroup$ Hmm... Good point. My creation involved once upon a time refers to mail in general (including letters written by a quill) but then a spawn of electricity refers to this special, electronic type, which is opposed to an animal being snail as in snail mail. I see how it's slightly off the track there. Not easy to get it perfectly aligned when rhyming too. Thanks for the pointer. $\endgroup$ Feb 22 '16 at 22:40
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    $\begingroup$ @KonradViltersten - my 2c is that some of the "wrong" answers to your riddle are just as good as the "right" one. This is what makes it too broad. A riddle's answer, when found, should leave no doubt that it's the correct one. But if I read the answers to yours (without knowing your intended solution), I'm not convinced I would've agreed with "email" (language and electricity seem just as good). Eg. Saying email is "a spawn of curiosity and weather" is just as much of a stretch as some of the "wrong" interpretations of clues in other answers. $\endgroup$
    – Alconja
    Feb 23 '16 at 1:12

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