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I have read the discussion here and I still have a point to raise.

I recently posted a question that attracted a lot of attention because of the many creative and amusing ways to solve it. Users were commenting that because of this the question was too broad. If the answers are all unique yet diverse, does that make it too broad?

Surely, too broad means that the question has too many permutations and that any answer given - while technically correct - is simply a bore because there is nothing to distinguish it from another answer (e.g. ways to solve a rubik's cube). However, I think when a question has many unique (i.e. creative in their own way) answers it should not be classified as 'too broad'.

What does the community think?

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    $\begingroup$ It's a big frustration of mine - rather than rehash what I already said in the comments of your linked question, I will just note that, despite my repeated asking, no one has ever been able to explain to me what problem they're preventing or solving by closing a puzzle for being "too broad". This indicates to me, increasingly with each unanswered question, that there actually is no problem. $\endgroup$ – question_asker Feb 24 '16 at 20:36
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    $\begingroup$ @question_asker thank you. I totally agree... unless there are many indistinguishable yet different answers (e.g. Question: x + y = 200. What is x?). Indistinguishable in the sense that there is no advantage of one answer over the other. $\endgroup$ – Ben Feb 24 '16 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ It just strikes me that we have things like votes and comments to non-destructively show that a question or answer isn't good, why not rely on those until an actual problem that we can articulate verifiably exists? Incidentally, justifying closing/deletion with "we don't want future users to be confused" doesn't reflect well on our opinion of potential future users. Why not just walk to their homes and slap them in the face directly? $\endgroup$ – question_asker Feb 24 '16 at 20:47
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    $\begingroup$ @question_asker ...nice. Do you want to formally put forward a suggestion to suspend the 'too broad' option to close a question? I think the problematic cases I described above could be taken care of with "unclear what you're asking" or "off-topic" options just as well... $\endgroup$ – Ben Feb 24 '16 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ The meta post you link to is very old. The scope of the site has changed quite a bit, and that post doesn't address puzzle challenges with many possible answers. A more recent discussion about this kind of puzzle: meta.puzzling.stackexchange.com/questions/3180/… $\endgroup$ – Julian Rosen Feb 24 '16 at 23:35
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Some riddles are fundamentally too broad, and cannot be fixed. For example

What is black and white and red all over?

It's designed as a pun riddle, said aloud, and the person is actually saying "read" so the answer is a newspaper. But you could answer "a zebra in a blender" or "a referee with a sunburn" or any other number of silly answers. This is not a puzzle by the definition of this site.

Other puzzles have a single answer, and when you are exposed to it, you realize that this answer fits all the clues perfectly. Until then there might have been three or four things that sort of fit, but now that you know this one - this is the one!

Sometimes, someone composes a not-too-broad puzzle in their head, but writes the clues in a way that allow many other things to fit those clues equally well. This means they haven't written the puzzle well enough. It's as though they asked

What food rhymes with blue?

And then were annoyed that people can think of more than just "stew" as possible answers.

The fix is to close, or more correctly to put on hold, which as I have said endlessly elsewhere is a temporary action taken to prevent answers from being added until the question is fixed and does not mean "go away, we hate you."

If a question is closed as too broad after a number of wrong answers have been added, the asker should reword the clues to constrain things so that, for the food example, the person who was thinking "cashew" or "calalloo" has a way of knowing their guess is wrong. Ideally the clues would actually lead to the answer, not just rule out wrong answers. If a question is closed as too broad before any answers have been added, this is actually better, and the approach is the same - reword the clues to be tighter. (It's harder, because maybe you can't think of any other answers at all, so you don't know why anyone thinks there are any other answers at all.)

Allowing people to ask "What food rhymes with blue" because "too broad" feels hard to define, or it hurts people's feelings to close questions, is not the way to grow this site. It's the way to turn away people who prefer high quality questions and answers.

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    $\begingroup$ Who has been turned away by too-broad questions? Can you name one person? On the other hand, though, many people who have had their questions closed have never come back. You can argue that this not the intent, but it is absolutely the effect that a minimal-information denial has on people, observably. $\endgroup$ – question_asker Feb 25 '16 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ If you don't like the StackExchange model, you don't have to use StackExchange sites. Many Many people have been turned away from many many sites that do not have an emphasis on crisp, clear, answerable questions. It's a feature of the system. That some people leave because they never learned what was welcome on a site is not ideal, but it's better than being a typical forum swimming in junk. $\endgroup$ – Kate Gregory Feb 25 '16 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ I didn't delete your comments, I don't have that ability. And I am not interested in this "name one person! Ha! You can't!" nonsense. The rules of StackExchange don't have to answer to high-school-debate tricks. They are long-established and useful. The population of the Internet is enormous and includes people who don't like them, but that is not in and of itself a reason to change them. $\endgroup$ – Kate Gregory Feb 25 '16 at 20:56
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    $\begingroup$ Ok, @question_asker, I'll bite and be that one person, if my personal experience helps... On a QA site where the whole point is to have a single answer get selected as "correct", it's frustrating, as a user, to post an answer that matches the clues and have the OP say, "nope, that's not what I was thinking of, this other person over here gets the tick". Playing "guess what I'm thinking" is not fun. When I see ambiguous/broad questions, it deters me from answering at all, because I don't want to waste my time if there's a dozen equally correct answers... $\endgroup$ – Alconja Feb 26 '16 at 1:05
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    $\begingroup$ And to add to that, questions that are too broad (like the example OP linked) inevitably devolve into either junk answers that lower the quality of the site, or into a "who can be the funniest" competition, which again detracts from the purpose of the site. I'm all for having fun and joking, but a "Base 5031" answer is clearly not a serious one and would be suited better as a comment. It's rules like "too broad" and "subjective" that have saved the SE network as a whole from becoming filled with meme junk that eventually rules most forums without moderation. $\endgroup$ – Alconja Feb 26 '16 at 1:11
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    $\begingroup$ @question_asker - I get your point, some "broad" questions still contain clever and interesting responses that do actually add value to the site. The problem (as I see it) is that these broad questions more generally invite an influx of low quality answers, and in turn invite more low quality questions. The line has to be drawn somewhere... This isn't death row, so I'd personally rather lose a few good questions while preventing many bad ones, than to have to continually police all the bad ones claiming, "but they got exemption, why is mine getting closed?!". $\endgroup$ – Alconja Feb 26 '16 at 1:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Alconja Yeah, I get that frustration. I wish we could just be better judges, maybe? I see a lot of stuff where, due largely to the fact that the Puzzling community has not managed to get the answer, stuff gets closed for being too broad, when it's pretty clear to me that there is one answer that actually fits (rather than doesn't-fit-but-the-person-posting-it-doesn't-understand-that-their-logical-leap-doesn't-make-it-fit). $\endgroup$ – question_asker Feb 26 '16 at 1:37
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    $\begingroup$ @question_asker - That being said, I do personally err on the side of innocent until proven guilty. Just yesterday I "saved" a puzzle from being closed. $\endgroup$ – Alconja Feb 26 '16 at 1:43
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    $\begingroup$ @question_asker - What harm can come? Like I said, I personally dislike having my time wasted trying to solve what appears to be a clever puzzle only to find out that it's just a guessing competition. The problem on both sides (closing vs waiting) is that it's hard to judge a puzzle without seeing the solution. If we close to fast, we might pre-emptively remove good content. If we wait too long, we waste peoples time. I personally would rather lose the occasional good post and improve the overall quality of the site than waste peoples time (especially since gut instincts are usually right). $\endgroup$ – Alconja Feb 26 '16 at 1:54
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    $\begingroup$ @question_asker ...you're reading way too deeply into how I feel on this topic. Like you said this is a time wasting site, not a death row trial. So why not all collectively try to make this the best waste of time possible? And if a few possibly borderline good posts get lost in the process, it's not a huge deal, because overall we've still raised the bar and improved the site, which in turn improves the enjoyment of our collective time wasting. $\endgroup$ – Alconja Feb 26 '16 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ @question_asker - don't we all have the ability to make the change though? No one is governing how/when questions are closed as too broad... I think, unfortunately (based on votes in this post, and in people's close vote actions), you are just on the other side of the line to the majority in this instance. But discussions like this are important to make people think about their power, and maybe you've swayed a few people to your view in the process... Or at least make them think twice before acting. $\endgroup$ – Alconja Feb 26 '16 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ @question_asker - this is true, but it highlights why discussions like this are important, even if they feel futile. They remind people there are two sides to every issue, with actual people on both sides. And for what it's worth, I vote based on what I believe is "for the greater good", mods be damned. :) (please don't ban me) $\endgroup$ – Alconja Feb 26 '16 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Alconja They haven't banned me yet, so I think you're safe :) Again, I can't emphasize this enough: thank you for actually taking the time and effort to engage what I've actually said in an honest and good-faith way, rather than just repeating established website dogma at me. I really genuinely appreciate it. $\endgroup$ – question_asker Feb 26 '16 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ @question_asker - No worries. Thank you too... Nice when a debate on the internet doesn't devolve into pettiness. ...this is where I compare you to Hitler right? :P $\endgroup$ – Alconja Feb 26 '16 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ No, no, this is where you compare moderators to Hitler. Any comparisons of non-moderators to Hitler are disallowed and punishable by immediate suspension. $\endgroup$ – Aza Feb 26 '16 at 17:12
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My opinions may or may not be representative of the community as a whole.

"Too broad" is a close reason for when a puzzle has many possible answers. If there are several answers that are equally good, then I would vote to close as too broad. The puzzle should be constrained so that there is only one possible answer, though it may not be obvious at first. If multiple answers all seem plausible, and nothing's making any of them stand out far above the rest, then I would VTC as too broad.

"Unique" answers don't help fix a bad puzzle. Puzzles' answers should be obvious in retrospect.


I feel it is important to have the "too broad" close reason because Puzzling.SE is meant to be a repository of high-quality puzzles (and questions about puzzles). Voting to close as too broad has these effects:

  • if the puzzle has potential, then it lets the creator fix the problems and clarify things before it's reopened. They can do this without seeing "junk" answers that are nowhere near what they intended.

  • if the puzzle is unfixable, then it doesn't get bumped to the front page because of all the answers that are posted.

Basically, I think "too broad" is necessary because it stops an influx of bad answers to a potentially bad question.

Puzzles with nothing that makes the right answer any better than other perfectly valid answers aren't puzzles. They're guessing games.

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    $\begingroup$ Your opinions are representative or my opinions. Solving puzzles is fun. Playing "guess what I'm thinking" is not. $\endgroup$ – Alconja Feb 26 '16 at 1:22

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