Tags are generally useful for sorting and filtering of content.

However, this requires that users read the tag-description what a tag is actually supposed to tag.

Unfortuantely, this is rather often not the case, and we have plenty of mis-tagged puzzles.

Generally, this is not a huge probelm if it occurs from time-to-time and can hence be 'edited into compliance' by anybody, but I've recently noticed a rather abundant mis-use of tags, in particular by newer users just needed 'any' tag for their, hmm, let's diplomatically call them quick-shot puzzles.

Some examples (AKA Beginner's quick-guid to some tags):

$\neq$ Any puzzle which requires engaging the organ in your head.
$=$ A puzzle that needs formal logical deduction to arrive at a solution.

$\neq$ A question to find any common property of a (small or tiny) group of items.
$=$ A puzzle in which you spot the pattern that links a set of given data items (like numbers, letters, music tunes). Usually, you use your insights into the pattern to find one or more new elements of the set.

$\neq$ A quiz question.
$=$ A puzzle whose solution relies on external sources (like tables, dictionaries, wikipedia).

$\neq$ Puzzles where the author does not know a better tag.
$=$ Puzzles where the genre or solving strategy of the puzzle is not explicitly stated; puzzles where the puzzler must deduce what type of puzzle it is.

$\neq$ Anything which I can solve, but my 2-year-old sibling can't.
$=$ Puzzles found in IQ tests. *Requires a reference!*

$\neq$ Any funny loop-hole trick-question out there.
$=$ A puzzle solved through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable only using logic.

So, we are back at fighting wind-mills:

  • We can (read:should!) edit / DV / close all shabby mis-tagged questions we encounter.

  • We can (read:have to!) patiently educate new users about "on-topic"/"off-topic" and what PuzzlingSE is about.

  • We need (read:*sigh*) to ignore unavoidable non-quality-content in order to find good stuff.

But can we do more?

Here comes my suggestion: I think a lot of the (rather unwanted) quick-shot puzzles are mis-tagged simply because new users need to fill in any tag and so they pick the first one potentially 'fitting'. We can never-ever prevent these postings, so maybe we can take advantage of the system and use tags as part of the solution?

Many users comes here and want to post a "a quick funny (trick) question", so why not have a tag? Yes, we generally don't want those type of postings on site, but we can not eliminate them. Let instead users "red-flag" their own questions right away! This helps to easily place the tag as "ignored-tag" in your own preferences.

We could even put something in the tag-description of the kind of "Trick-questions are generally not appreciated on site unless they are of exceptional quality. Think twice before posting such content, down-voting is likely."

In a similar manner we could create more such tags which fit most appropriately to the type of questions we generally don't want. I would call this 'class' of tags garbage-collector-tags. Note, that I'm not asking for a tag like or etc, but for tags which a beginner would choose himself because it is appropriate to the type of question, even if the question itself is not very appropriated for the site!

Discussion wanted.

Good idea? Bad idea? Other suggestions? Suggestions for such tag names?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I like this idea. I think the crucial part, as you indicated, is making the tag description indicate that this type of post is generally frowned upon. Then puzzles are appropriately tagged, but people aren't surprised when they get a luke-warm or cold reception. $\endgroup$ Jun 14, 2016 at 16:48
  • $\begingroup$ I personally feel like iq-test is already kind of doing just this. $\endgroup$ Jun 15, 2016 at 23:02
  • $\begingroup$ @feelinferrety You have a point there. I was wondering if that tag should be closed as a meta-tag. It doesn't specify a "type" of puzzle, but its origin only. The only "benefit" I see in it is, that it (theoretically) should give you a list of puzzle found "outside of Puzzling SE", but I'm not sure this is important. $\endgroup$
    – BmyGuest
    Jun 16, 2016 at 16:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ A trick-question tag already exists: I created it, and it's called trick. $\endgroup$
    – user88
    Jun 17, 2016 at 15:18

3 Answers 3


I'm not sure myself if this is a good idea, but I thought I'd post it, and see what the community thinks. Downvote if you don't like the idea. (And upvote if you do!)

We could have a tag that is something like or or even just , that is not intended to remain but lets people post their question and have someone else with better tag knowledge re-tag it appropriately.

Potential benefits:

  • Instead of tagging with an incorrect legitimate tag, as mentioned in the question above, which may never be noticed, this ensures that the puzzle will be re-tagged, since no questions should exist (long-term) with this tag.
  • Especially in the case of , it would probably be easy to find for newbies. I suspect that many of the and tags result from people typing "puzzle" into the tag box and then picking what seems most relevant.
  • People who want to help with re-tagging can add this tag to their favourites, so it can be addressed quickly.
  • People who don't want to see newbie puzzles can add this tag to their "ignore" list, so that they won't see the puzzles, at least until they are re-tagged.

Potential downsides:

  • New users still might have trouble finding the correct tag (which is why I proposed as a potential option.
  • It requires more effort on the part of the community to re-tag, although one could argue that this is already required for mis-tagged questions as above.
  • People could easily get lazy and not bother trying to learn to tag their questions appropriately, but always rely on someone else to do it for them.

I imagine a tag description that would read something like this:

Use this tag if you're new to Puzzling Stack Exchange and not sure what tags to use. Someone else will remove this tag and add the appropriate tags for you. As you learn about the different tags here, you will be able to select appropriate tags for your questions.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think this breaks the whole concept of not using Meta-tags on SE, though. It seems like this just encourages people to be lazy and not bother trying to learn how PSE works, rather than actually being a part of the community of the site, and helping to better it. I think that adding a tag that has no purpose other than to get someone else to do the work for you doesn't help SE or PSE, at all, personally. While using invalid tags is an issue, creating an intentionally invalid tag doesn't seem to solve the problem. $\endgroup$ Jun 14, 2016 at 16:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Khale_Kitha I see your point. I guess my thought was that people are mis-tagging anyway, so instead of potentially going unnoticed and remaining incorrect, why not ensure it gets addressed? $\endgroup$ Jun 14, 2016 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ I think mostly because it simply directs the user to perform inappropriate behavior since we're going to just come behind them and clean up after them. I don't mind helping to moderate posts, etc, but I don't have much interest in being the baby sitter for users that don't have any interest in showing effort. $\endgroup$ Jun 14, 2016 at 16:55
  • $\begingroup$ @Khale_Kitha Note, that my suggestion is aiming at not meta-tagging. I was thinking of GPR's solution as well (not voted yet), as well as having a "flag-as-bad" type tag, but did not suggest it because of the meta-tag arguement. I do think we need tags for those "puzzles" which exist but are unwanted, though. Otherwise they will just be inappropriately tagged. That's at least my suggestion/discussion. I would appreciate if you could write an answer, not only a comment, though. (If you care.) $\endgroup$
    – BmyGuest
    Jun 14, 2016 at 17:07

For a bit of history, please read The Death of Meta Tags. A "garbage collector" tag (no matter what it's called) would fail both of the proposed criteria:

  1. If the tag can't work as the only tag on a question, it's probably a meta-tag.

  2. If the tag commonly means different things to different people, it's probably a meta-tag.

Since those criteria were posted, we've had a number of attempts on a variety of sites to use tags to label less-than-ideal questions. In particular, there have been several "identification" tags on sites like Anime, Gaming, and Movies & TV for when the asker remembers bits and pieces of a cultural artifact, but can't remember its name. Recently, some of these sites have taken on the considerable work to remove those questions. (See, for instance, What we'd like to do about those gosh darn “identification requests” questions.)

Creating a (or pressing the existing into service) seems like to head down the same path. So while I understand the frustration dealing with low-quality questions, the best thing to do is continue to fight the windmills as you suggest. Traditionally new users tag poorly, so you can expect to re-tag as a matter of policy. Rather than keeping unwanted trick question around, you are probably better off voting to close and/or delete now.

In other words, don't bother with mark and sweep, which tends to require dedicated cleanup time. Instead, prefer something closer to reference counting. The system notices when a community has lost interest in a question (as signaled by closure, downvotes and disinterest) and deletes it automatically.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Two comments here: 1) I do think that 'trick-question' would not be a meta-tag. It would be legitematly mark questions which are trick-question (and not something else). 2) The problem with Puzzling compared to other sites is, that questions "the (resident) community" generaly dislikes are still getting more hits/votes than quality stuff, simply because also a lot of "pass-by-solvers" come in and utilize the site very differenlty from other SE sites. That's why reference couting and HNQ works so badly here... $\endgroup$
    – BmyGuest
    Jun 14, 2016 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ Can we customize a reference-counting-like algorithm, especially one that we can readily readjust to suit (presumably through moderation)? Can't even imagine how SE developers would have time for site-by-site ad hoc refinement $\endgroup$
    – humn
    Jun 14, 2016 at 19:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @humn: We do have some site settings to tweak, but it's hard to know what would need to be changed to satisfy the need. I'm actually not sure what the need is, to be honest. Yes, cleaning up junky questions can be a pain, but it's kinda the cost of popularity. $\endgroup$ Jun 15, 2016 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ A lot of this "popularity" comes from the HNQ. Hence see my alternate suggestion for fighting the problem. $\endgroup$
    – BmyGuest
    Jun 16, 2016 at 16:27

I think that having certain tags direct users using them to further resources about such questions could be a useful idea. In particular, a conscientious new user is likely to read tag descriptions and if one contains a warning like, "Many (trick questions) are closed as off topic because (reason). See (meta post) for information on how to write a good question," this could help them judge the quality of their question. Even better would be implementing a tag warning for tags that attract lots of poor questions. I'm not sure what the process for doing that is.

However, I think this points to a problem that we have: Even as an experienced SE user, I cannot find any clear indication of whether a short riddle with a trivial answer is on topic. That is, in looking for guidance in our help center, and on meta, I have failed to encounter a clear guideline about what puzzles are on topic and which are not. The meta post I suggest linking in the tag description to doesn't exist yet and the site would benefit from having it.

I should note that I don't think designing the tags with an eye towards ignoring them is a good idea - firstly, users just coming to this site will see such questions, which could lead to them posting similar questions (even when they are making an effort to adhere to community norms) or to leaving the site. The root of this problem is pretty clear: We need a more clear definition of what is on topic here and we need to moderate accordingly.


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