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TL/DR: Are using online resources (such as google, wikipedia, etc..) frowned upon when answering a question

I'm mostly curious what the community's opinion of using google (or preferred search engine) or other online resource (i.e. wikipedia,thesaurus,etc..) to help solve puzzles on this site. I know it is an online puzzle site so it's very likely using online resources is going to be very commonplace. I also know some people might view using said resources as cheating. What is/ should the standard be towards such use?

Some possibilities I have thought of:

  • Using online resources is totally fine, nothing should be done about it
  • Using online resources is totally fine, but the answerer should make it apparent they used such aids
  • Using online resources is mostly fine, but there should be a tag when the asker does not want said resources to be used (similar to no-computers but not exactly the same thing)
  • Using online resources should be avoided, but made apparent when used
  • Using online resources shouldn't be allowed unless the asker tags it with some online resources allowed tag

These possibilities probably are not all-encompassing.

I'm aware regardless of what the consensus is people will use online resources and probably not be apparent about it, but I am curious as to what the community thinks about this

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Unfortunately, there's no real way to enforce any kind of ban on online research. Nor, really, is there any way to know if an answerer has used Google (or Wikipedia, or DuckDuckGo (if the answerer is Richard Stallman)), so ultimately any kind of expectation along these lines is kind of futile.

The way I see it, the question poster has two options:

  1. Understand that online research is an inevitability—you can certainly ask, tell, exhort users against online research, but this is ultimately only ever on the honor system.
  2. You can make an effort to make your clues ungooglable, through obfuscation or similar. This, of course, might not work for all types of puzzles.

The second option is probably better for avoiding the problem of abuse of research capability, but "overdoing it", so to speak, could result in a puzzle that's been obfuscated out of solvability. It can be a thin line to walk, but... creating good puzzles always is.

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  • $\begingroup$ Those are very good points. To be a little hypothetical, say every user would follow the ban if we were to actually ban online research, do you think this would be a good idea in the first place, or would it detract from the site overall? $\endgroup$ – Gordon Allocman May 4 '16 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ Well, assuming we could somehow enforce a rule like that... I personally would probably attempt fewer puzzles. Even if I'm not googling (say) words from the puzzle to find the answer, I might want to google a detail (especially given the fact that some users won't accept a correct answer unless all or almost all of the individual clues have been solved). Not being able to do this effectively relegates puzzle solving entirely to recall. Which... ends up being more about what a person can do with only their own memory than actual cleverness. $\endgroup$ – question_asker May 4 '16 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ Good point, I personally use some online resources often when solving a puzzle here (though not all the time), and it's good to know it is not universally frowned upon $\endgroup$ – Gordon Allocman May 4 '16 at 15:11
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This is very similar to this question about computer-solving puzzles.

I think besides the obvious problem of how could you prevent it, I also think it should not be prevented per se. The same, as you can't "prevent" group-efforts (offline) or people asking for help outside the site etc.

However, I think an answer should generally state the solution-process, and yes, it should state if Googling was part of it. It will help the next puzzle-builder to be more careful to "obscure" Googling, if he doesn't want such aids to be used...

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There are several puzzles that require the usage of Google(such as any of the puzzles), however I am assuming that these sorts of questions aren't being considered here.

In many puzzles, there are specific details that are almost impossible to determine the meaning of without the aid of a computer engine. I also wouldn't expect anyone to even attempt the majority of the math or cryptographic questions if any sort of calculator/resource ban was enforced. Furthermore, if the question/puzzle hasn't already been solved elsewhere online, using a search engine shouldn't be problematic in very many cases.

Personally, I don't think it is considered cheating to use any and every tool at one's disposal to attempt to solve a challenging puzzle. I therefore am of the opinion that the usage of online resources should not be discouraged, but rather the creation of new, original puzzles encouraged.


On a side note, it seems that a somewhat similar tag for problems that do require computer skills was addressed here. It doesn't really solve this problem, but perhaps a similar idea could work (although I don't know how such an idea would be enforced, and it just might backfire and cause people to attempt to use online resources even when they aren't necessary).

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For some cryptographic puzzles, the challenge is really in finding the encryption, so in those cases it seems like it would just be frustrating to have to decrypt the message by hand instead of using an online tool.

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One of the wonderful things about this experiment (successful experiment, but experiment nevertheless) is that this site is a personal challenge. Sure, you could cheat. But why would you? For all those reputation points?

And if someone does cheat, it doesn't take away from everyone else's experience. If they want to challenged by it, they just don't scroll down. There's some very smart people on this site who can solve riddles and puzzles faster than I could find it even if I cheated for it!! That doesn't take away the fun of solving it myself.

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  • $\begingroup$ tbh I don't understand the downvotes on this - there's an entirely reasonable point here, that "cheating" is ultimately a) not that attractive in the first place, to most people, and b) not inherently impactful to the users who choose not to. $\endgroup$ – question_asker May 14 '16 at 3:45

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