# So what's our actual stance on riddles?

On this question in the definition phase, somebody noted that "this site is for puzzles, not riddles".

But I'm wondering if, given that a riddle is clear enough in its meaning, and does in fact have a definitive and indisputable answer, whether it could pass for a "puzzle" for the purposes of this website.

Or maybe I'm just getting the definition of "riddle" wrong here. Somebody please advise.

• Puzzles and riddles go hand an hand...they are synonyms. You should allow them. Just because you can't solve them doesn't mean someone else can't come along and do so, yet you immediately down vote them.
– user37
May 17, 2014 at 19:34
• @Jody People are downvoting and close-voting your riddles because they don't offer enough information to actually answer anything or even be an interesting riddle.
– user88
May 17, 2014 at 19:42
• Some examples came up in a related question — definitely not suitable for a questions and answers site. May 19, 2014 at 14:39
• @Gilles Situation riddles are not real riddles. They are totally different, in fact. Nov 20, 2014 at 6:43
• THIS QUESTION IS OLD: Please don't neglect latest activity. ALSO, a situation puzzle is nothing like a real riddle. that's completely preposterous Nov 20, 2014 at 10:15

Well, it's about time that I had a voluminous go at this. Many answers here are great, but I feel that the issue is very simple. Riddles are word puzzles of the greatest sort. They simply have one drawback. Anyone can make a horrible riddle; it's stupid easy. Math or science related puzzles as an example require that the puzzlesmith be reasonably competent in a field, whereas a riddler need only type a bit and think himself clever. If riddles are allowed on the site, they are likely to always be the greatest source of crap needing cleanup. I don't dispute this.

Here's why getting rid of riddles is a terrible idea. First, banning them isn't going to get rid of the crappy posts. They'll still come in and need cleanup. I posted riddles because riddles are what I can do. I didn't think to look for a list of acceptable/unacceptable puzzle types and I don't think most people will either. The site's name is Puzzles, not "Some Puzzles Only™." Removing riddles is just going to get rid of the good riddles, riddles that bring an entirely separate intellectual crowd to the site.

I work with math all day on the job. I've got too many math puzzles already. Others simply hate math or lack the skill to enjoy them. Without linguistic puzzles like riddles, this tiny, tiny community is cutting off what I would surmise is its largest potential following. We need riddlers to get out of beta.

I propose two guidelines to keep all puzzles (including riddles) high quality.

First, that brevity is a virtue. Puzzles should be as concise as possible, with length being acceptable where required to exponentially increase the user satisfaction of the puzzle.

Second, that all puzzles fall into three categories, calculation, interpretation, and assumption.

The first category consists only of puzzles with nothing left to interpretation. There is exactly one answer and there can only ever be one right answer. The author is not needed to confirm it, because the answer is obviously the only possible solution once discovered. Even if there are a small number of equally valid calculated answers, it's okay if they're a mark of the answerers' ingenuity rather than the puzzle's poor quality. I don't see many riddles if any at all falling into this category, for they're more likely math/science related. The writers of these puzzles should have the greatest freedom.

The next category is interpretation. People are often going to guess this kind of question wrong, but sometimes in a way that is constructive and fun. A great incorrect answer will fit the majority of criterion, but never all. The correct answer will prove to perfectly fit the criterion presented with few red herrings if any. Good riddles will almost always fall into this category. Interpretation puzzlers should be required to either add a hint to their puzzle, answer it, or confirm an answer right within eight days. Moderators should perhaps warn the puzzler a day before deletion? Unanswered interpretation puzzles that are abandoned should be deleted.

The final category, assumption, can be defined as a puzzle with a low clue to crap ratio or a puzzle whose clues do not lead to a definite answer. Perhaps it could also be defined as a puzzle whose intended answer is not as good as its received answer. These are not puzzles; they are either trollish exercises in self-indulgence or works of people who mean well without the required skill, dedication, or help from the community.

Examples of Calculation Questions:

Examples of Interpretation Questions (yes, they're both mine to speed research time):

Speak the Name of the Father! - Name the lord of the gods so that he may yet survive the theomachy

Examples of Assumption Questions:

Mysterious Murder Mystery

The old man doesn't like seagull meat

To note on the last group, the murder mystery is simply frustrating nonsense. There is as much of a logical path there as there is from asparagus to KOI-3010.01. The seagull one is fun, but it's less a riddle than a story that makes you guess the ending. If it's that long, it should be a more complex puzzle that requires the length.

In summary, riddles are not the problem, they're a solution to a lot of the site's struggles. Not only will they bring new people in, the terrible riddles are great practice for moderators!

• Makes good sense to me.
– A E
Nov 20, 2014 at 14:45
• +2 for "Others simply hate math or lack the skill to enjoy them" Nov 20, 2014 at 17:02
• In my usage of the two terms, the calculation questions are "puzzles" while the interpretation and assumption questions are "riddles".
– user88
Nov 20, 2014 at 17:49
• @Joe I understand and appreciate the usage, though I find the viewpoint too narrow to sustain a large enough following for a stack of its own. Should you only want that type of puzzle, why not simply use the puzzle tag on Math SE or the math tag here? My argument is that an entire stack devoted to puzzles alone requires a definition of puzzles more inclusive than yours. The beauty and the letdown of Stack Exchange is the democracy of it. People like riddles and they're puzzles in every right. Some didn't like it in area 51. Unfortunate, but irrelevant. Nov 20, 2014 at 18:06
• I understand your point, and it's completely valid. I was just explaining my own usage of the term before you brought up these three different categories here, in case there was any confusion.
– user88
Nov 20, 2014 at 18:08
• This is a great starting point for categorization, but my only question is, where does it take us? It's an interesting categorization, and can serve us well in the future, but what do you suggest concerning our policy?
– user20
Nov 20, 2014 at 19:08
• @Emrakul what is the problem - poor content? We filter it down with votes and flags like we do on every other SE site. Nov 20, 2014 at 19:51
• @Raystafarian In theory; unfortunately, a lot of bad content tends to be on the heavy side of upvotes, rather than downvotes Nov 21, 2014 at 3:30
• This is true. The only way to fight awful content is deletion. Nov 21, 2014 at 3:36
• @thin So the issue is that the site doesn't have enough users with deletion powers to counter-balance the problem that a lot of the user-base are fans of something off-topic? I'm not sure which category it is that has been deemed off-topic, but is there a custom close reason for it? Nov 21, 2014 at 12:56
• @Emrakul maybe we should mention these three concepts in the help center. Make it clear that questions that don't have a strict (as determined by the community) method of judging answers as "correct" are off-topic, while answers that aren't justifiably using that method are non-answers. Then whether a puzzle is a "riddle" or not only affects the tag we give it, rather than how we close it. Nov 21, 2014 at 15:51
• @EnvisionAndDevelop Two relevant posts here, and a (much older) answer here. You're absolutely free to answer these questions, and/or edit the answers! It's something we need to do, but has been put off for a while.
– user20
Nov 21, 2014 at 17:23
• While I agree with your sentiment, I disagree with your categorization of the first two questions as "calculation questions." Both have a number of upvoted alternative answers, one even having received a populist badge for it. Dec 3, 2014 at 6:46
• So are they disjoint or not ? please answer this question also, meta.puzzling.stackexchange.com/questions/3321/… Sep 2, 2015 at 14:09

I see this as being the central issue of all of our problems at the moment.

First, let it become clear that a "situation puzzle" is not a "riddle". Please, see here and here. And then please contrast with the the links in this question.

I agree that situation puzzles are not suitable for Puzzling. The reasoning is that there is no single satisfying answer. I also liken these to something like a "playground" joke (called a switcheroo). A riddle, by contrast, does have a single satisfying answer (i.e. the carefully chosen words may have many interpretations, but one and only one set of interpretations lead to a single answer). If a riddle is generating many ridiculous answers then there may be something wrong with the riddle - however I think the problem is insufficient moderation (from the entire community) on the answers. Please look at StackOverflow and tell me that the questions don't attract ridiculous answers (and even for questions that will never be looked at again).

I will strongly state however, that a "real riddle", which is "crafted" should be, not only on-topic, but highly desirable as good quality, original, creative, fun content - which in of expert level (some experts actually write things other than technical dissertations) - and which attracts experts. There is an open question regarding this matter here.

If you disagree then please consider the purpose of beginning this SE. Otherwise, please simply consider the definition of a "Puzzle". I, a member of the English speaking world, hear "puzzle" and I think "riddle". It's just that simple. Not to mention that you can consult any dictionary or encyclopedia to assist with understanding this. Someone described Puzzling as "The perfect intersection between language, psychology and formal technique".

I would like to shift discussion away from this towards, how can we try to "enforce" good riddles as questions, and introduce proper protocols (in the community) to drag down the bad answers (which are the bigger problem) - hint: they usually take the form of guesses.

Please feel free to edit this if I am missing something.

• I agree with d'alar in that a riddle is itself a puzzle. As long as only one, clear answer is intended, it should be allowed. However it's hard to tell that if you don't know what the answer is. So I think with riddles it might be hard to enforce all of the rules we would like, but we should allow them regardless. I joined last night when I read a few of Travis Kindred's puzzles, and honestly, it's what brought me to this site. Very creative, challenging riddles. Not to mention, I've noticed a few of our riddles have gotten to the top network list, which might be saying something.
– Paul
Nov 20, 2014 at 8:17
• Part of the reason we raised this discussion originally way back when was because riddles tend to attract too many answers that are all equally valid. While there may be one technically correct answer, if the OP didn't come back to arbitrate which answer is correct and which aren't, we would have absolutely no way of knowing. In other words, "Good guess, but this isn't what I'm looking for and therefore wrong" has become a very common response.
– user20
Nov 20, 2014 at 8:40
• @Emrakul We solve that by demanding and enforcing full explanation. We have already started doing that Nov 20, 2014 at 8:41
• @d'alar'cop What if all $N$ unique answers explain with justification why they're right?
– user20
Nov 20, 2014 at 8:42
• @Emrakul If all N unique answers give coherent explanations (and N is greater than 1) then there may be something wrong with the riddle. I will also reply that on SE or ELU there are often many possible answers... that doesn't detract Nov 20, 2014 at 8:43
• @Emrakul I don't see this issue being much different from a site such as SuperUser. Some of the computer problems posted on SuperUser can generate a lot of different answers, all of which can be equally valid ways of trying to fix the problem. But only one (or sometimes none) will solve the OP's problem, but if the OP doesn't come back to accept an answer, then no one would know which was the correct answer. Nov 20, 2014 at 9:12
• @pacoverflow I'm not sure that example holds; on SuperUser, it's fully possible for someone to try to repeat indicated steps and say "that doesn't work." Here, there's no differentiating factor besides "this isn't what I wanted."
– user20
Nov 20, 2014 at 9:28
• @Emrakul Well whether an answer coherently explains the clue is something any reasonable person can assess. Therein lies the art of the creating those things. Frankly, "How do I make a solid riddle?" is a question that should be asked here! Nov 20, 2014 at 9:31
• Although English is my native language, when I hear "puzzle" my first thought is a picture broken into 500 or so pieces that you have to put together. That doesn't stop me from enjoying both logic puzzles and riddles on this site. Nov 20, 2014 at 14:49
• "the problem is insufficient moderation (from the entire community)" - this. If there are bad answers, they need to be downvoted, fixed, deleted, etc. If a question is written such that bad answers are correct, it needs to be downvoted, fixed, deleted, etc. I've seen plenty of garbage answers on physics challenges; does that mean those kinds of questions are a problem? Of course not. If a riddle is written such that many disparate answers are equally and completely correct, then it's a bad question and should be dealt with appropriately. But don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Nov 21, 2014 at 3:04

Thank you Joe for raising this topic. Here, for what it's worth, is my two cents:

• It would be unfair for some users to impose their personal puzzling preferences on others.
I'm not a big fan of riddles. But if I don't want to see them then I can easily exclude them by adding 'riddles' to my list of ignore tags. I'm not a fan of opera either, but I don't try to prevent my local concert hall from putting on operas - I just don't go to them.

• 'Puzzling' is a broad church.
The term 'puzzling' is capable of many different interpretations. It's up to us which one we choose. There is no One True Definition that excludes riddles. (I include the definition of 'puzzle' from the Oxford English Dictionary below. I've chosen the OED because it's the most authoritative dictionary I know).

• There is no clear definition of 'riddle' as opposed to other kinds of word puzzles. They have a lot in common with crossword clues (particularly cryptic crossword clues) and other kinds of word puzzles. If we institute a 'no riddles' rule then we'll have to deal with the question of what is a riddle and what is not. (d'alar'cop's answer already starts to get into the question of what is a 'real riddle' versus a 'situation puzzle').

Point / counterpoint:

• But riddles are poor-quality puzzles.
I don't buy the idea that any one genre of puzzle is inherently superior to any other. If I say that riddles are low-quality, what I really mean is that I don't happen to like them very much. De gustibus non est disputandum.

• But riddles attract low-quality answers; they are not a good fit for the SE format because they are open-ended.
I agree that they do seem to attract low-quality answers. I don't think this is a reason for banning the whole genre of question - rather, we should be deleting the low-quality answers. I am in favour of deleting answers (in every puzzling genre) which don't include an explanation of their method.

• But the people who proposed the site on Area 51 did not intend for riddles to be part of it.
Fairness demands that the views of all members of the community ought to carry equal weight, whether that member is new to the site or was involved with the private beta, and regardless of reputation points. Times change.

• But the rest of Stack Exchange doesn't like them.

1. The facts don't support this argument. The number of people clicking through from other parts of the SE network and upvoting riddles is much greater than the number of people complaining.
2. It's not up to them. It's up to us. We do have a duty to be considerate to our neighbours, but that doesn't mean that we should allow them to dictate the rules of our (nascent) community, particularly if their only argument is that we should strongly favour conformity over creativity.

So (in my opinion) we should not ban riddles; instead we should work to improve question quality and answer quality in riddles, as we should in all genres. The best way to do this is for our riddle-enthusiasts to lead by example in posting high-quality riddles (which I am seeing them doing at the moment - in general I find riddles boring but we've actually had some lately that are starting to change my mind).

I hope people find that helpful and thought-provoking. I'm not trying to misrepresent or 'straw man' any of the counter-arguments, so if you think I have misunderstood them or missed an important facet of them then please (politely) let me know in the comments and I'll amend this post to reflect my (hopefully) improved understanding. (Or I'll completely reverse my position if the arguments are convincing!).

Appendix 1: OED Definition of 'puzzle' (noun)

1. The state or condition of being puzzled; bewilderment, bafflement, confusion; perplexity as to how to act or decide; an instance of this. Now usually to be in a puzzle : to be in a state of bewilderment or confusion.

2. A puzzling or perplexing question; a difficult problem; a person who or thing which is hard to understand, an enigma.

†3. Short for puzzle-peg n. 1. Obs. [obsolete]

1. Something devised or made for the purpose of testing one's ingenuity, knowledge, patience, etc.; a toy or problem of this kind. Sometimes with modifying word specifying the type of puzzle, as Chinese, crossword, jigsaw puzzle, etc.: see the first element.

"puzzle, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2014. Web. 20 November 2014.

• This is great. "I'm on a diet therefore you can't have cookie" ;) Nov 20, 2014 at 10:00
• Exhibit A: puzzling.stackexchange.com/questions/498/… - also NB the OP Nov 20, 2014 at 10:04
• Exhibit B: puzzling.stackexchange.com/questions/509/… - by a MOD :O Nov 20, 2014 at 10:36
• The issue surrounding riddles is not that they're inferior, it's that they're inherently open-ended and may not be a good fit for the Stack Exchange format. If we can make it work, though, then we can make it work. /shrug; we just need to more thoroughly and stringently address quality if we keep them around.
– user20
Nov 20, 2014 at 11:44
• Thanks for the feedback @Emrakul, I've amended my answer a bit.
– A E
Nov 20, 2014 at 11:50

I like TheDoctor's suggestion, but I think there's a situation when the asker can ask for answer of the riddle: when they don't know the answer.

Such question should be tagged properly (say, ), and then it's not about a challenge or a guessing game. The correct answer should require an authoritative source (say, the author), and just 'wild guess' or 'it fits' answers should not be accepted.

Examples:

Q: Why is a raven like a writing desk?

A: This is a riddle by Lewis Carroll, posed in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Originally, Lewis Carroll didn't intend it to possess an answer, but when badgered about it, he came up with two: “Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front!”

Q: Thirty white horses on a red hill,
First they champ,
Then they stamp,
Then they stand still.

A: This riddle was posed in The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, during the riddle contest between Bilbo Baggins and Gollum. The answer given in the book is Teeth.

• Only 30? That's some weird teeth Gollum has.
– user88
May 15, 2014 at 13:34
• Re "should be tagged properly (say, canonical-answer-required)", see meta.puzzling.stackexchange.com/q/34. May 19, 2014 at 8:18
• @JoeZ. Actually, Gollum only had six teeth. Jun 28, 2014 at 18:03

If the riddle has clear, unambigous answer, which is based, for example, on the double meaning of some words, it should be on topic.

For example:

What have face, hands, no legs, but yet can run?

It's a clock, because the words face, hands and to run have the second meaning specific to the clocks. Theoretically, such riddles could be solved by an advanced computer program with semantic analysis capabilities.

• I think the problem here is that you can't tell that a riddle is supposed to have a clear, unambiguous answer just by looking at the question.
– user88
Nov 20, 2014 at 7:16

The few riddles i've seen posted so far are generally too open-ended, unclear, or are too well-known to ask. I think our policy should be:

No riddles asked as challenges. You can ask a riddle as an advice question (i.e. "How can i make this riddle better?")

• I agree. I personally think that puzzles should not be asked as challenges on this site. This site should be used for questions about puzzles.
– Alex
May 17, 2014 at 23:46
• It does no harm and people seem to enjoy it - why restrict them? Nov 10, 2014 at 16:10
• @Bachrach44 Because I'm on a diet therefore you can't have a cookie, sir Nov 20, 2014 at 10:05
• @d'alar'cop Well I'm not so why can't I have one? :-) In all seriousness, you've brought the snark, but do you have an actual point or argument? Nov 20, 2014 at 13:39
• @Bachrach44, I believe d'alar'cop is referring to the bullet point "It would be unfair for some users to impose their personal puzzling preferences on others" in my post. See his/her matching comment below my post.
– A E
Nov 20, 2014 at 14:47
• @Alex No puzzle challenges? I doubt that enough people would flock to a site about puzzles as an intellectual concept without the fun that comes from the challenge. Read in my answer my argument for rules on puzzle challenges. Nov 20, 2014 at 14:59
• @Bachrach44 Indeed I was agreeing with you in a semi-sarcastic manner :) the ludicrosity was intentional Nov 20, 2014 at 17:11
• "generally too open-ended, unclear, or are too well-known to ask"? Then close them as such. If people are posting bad questions because they don't care about the rules, adding a rule will not help! Forbidding riddles will only prevent people who care about quality from posting otherwise high-quality questions. Nov 21, 2014 at 15:36