I've seen several examples of "riddles" recently that are pure trivia:

I am known for believing my Teddy is real

I am a genius. Find out who am I

The first time I was seen was for Christmas - Who Am I?

(There are many more, but these are the most recent.)

I think that riddles should have some form of misdirection, wordplay, or other gimmick to be a puzzle - these are just trivia, not requiring any thought. Puzzles should have a "path" from solution to answer, even if the path is obscured - but for these types of riddles, you either know them or you have to look them up. There's no element of "figuring out" - the process of answering is governed by recognition, not by solving.

Is this view held by the rest of you too? If so, what should we do about these?

A conversation in mod chat that might explain my point of view more clearly:

Emrakul: "the process of answering is governed by recognition, not by solving." This is a real interesting philosophical distinction. I need to think about the implications a bit, because that seems to be the core premise: that puzzles governed by recognition of existing media are not puzzles, and/or don't belong on Puzzling.

Deusovi: I may have not expressed myself clearly there - it's not necessarily the "being about existing media" that's the issue. It's just that stating facts about something and asking for people to identify the thing isn't really a puzzle unless some other trick is involved. Like, "I'm yellow, I have a point at one end and a cylinder on the other, and you can use me to write. What am I?" isn't really a riddle. It's just a description of an object. Riddles need to have some form of wordplay or misdirection or cryptic metaphor or something that's not just a list of characteristics.

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    $\begingroup$ The struggle here, I think, is that what you're talking about - the recognition of an idea by its abstracted components - is an integral part of all riddles. Without it, no riddle would work. However, I also think that by itself, removed from the necessary language and metaphorical context, it isn't a particularly good element. Extremely low quality riddles arise from sole reliance on it, but it's critical where other supporting components exist. $\endgroup$ – user20 Jul 29 '16 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ I think I can understand what you're trying to say. But how would you draw the border? It's highly subjective whether a riddle is puzzled enough. Also subjective is the perception of how cryptic a clue is. We had similar discussions some months ago and didn't really come to a conclusion if I remember correctly. Anyway, I'm on your side - down with the low qualitiy! They seem to be mere rep-creating machines (although others maybe just enjoy these kinds of riddles?). $\endgroup$ – Avigrail Jul 29 '16 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Avigrail I think subjective topicality isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as the consensus is good enough, and we can write clearly stated criteria. We would have to refine where the line is through discussion and clarification on meta, which I think is honestly not a bad solution, if we all roughly start in the same place. We'd get better at it over time, too. $\endgroup$ – user20 Jul 29 '16 at 21:50
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    $\begingroup$ So we need some kind of 'soft' evaluation formula to determine a riddle's difficulty/abstraction/quality/... thus determine its value so to speak. Tough job! $\endgroup$ – Avigrail Jul 29 '16 at 21:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Avigrail: My issue is not with the difficulty at all. Riddles can be easy or hard and still be good. But there has to be something more than "here's a list of characteristics, identify the thing". $\endgroup$ – Deusovi Jul 29 '16 at 21:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Bonjovi you could, for example, define a list of elements/techniques a riddle could work with and determine every riddle has to use at least , say, 10 % of them. $\endgroup$ – Avigrail Jul 29 '16 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ I see two solutions here. You can either downvote these kinds of riddles or you can vote these riddles down. It will clearly give the sign of something-not-good-in-the-riddle. And also leave the comment covering the reason of downvote so that the OP can improve in his next puzzle. $\endgroup$ – manshu Jul 30 '16 at 4:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Emrakul But even if we came up with good guidelines/criteria, what does enforcement look like? This is part of the broader issue that you can't always judge a riddle's (or puzzle's) quality until you know the answer. (And you can't stop people from writing questions...as far as I know.) So the only real possibilities are VTC or downvoting after the fact, right? $\endgroup$ – Dan Russell Aug 1 '16 at 15:04
  • $\begingroup$ @DanRussell Closing questions even after they're answered serves as a signpost that those questions shouldn't be here - but we critically do need to change the way we vote, as well. I'd also be all for exploring proactive closure of riddles, though it's touchy and would take serious work and thought to get right. $\endgroup$ – user20 Aug 1 '16 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Emrakul Right, I was just making sure there wasn't some other plausible alternative, like having a paper clip appear and say "It appears you're writing a low-quality riddle. Can I help?" I think the more time you spend on the site, the more you realize how it works and its difference from other SE sites, and the responsibility to downvote poor stuff. But I don't know the best way to get that site-quality stuff into the heads of new users. $\endgroup$ – Dan Russell Aug 1 '16 at 15:17
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, yeah. Well, changing the voting culture and letting less slide will help inform new users. A lot of it is self-perpetuating, repeating voting patterns seen elsewhere. $\endgroup$ – user20 Aug 1 '16 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Emrakul Do we really have to close a puzzle to show people that it doesn't belong? In truth, doesn't closing (and eventual deletion) do the opposite and remove it rather than allowing users to see that it is bad and shouldn't have been posted? A question with a score of -10 says a lot more to me about being low quality than a question that is deleted (that I can't see anymore). $\endgroup$ – Aggie Kidd Aug 19 '16 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ @AggieKidd: The issue is that the questions still get upvotes. Many of these questions are at scores like +12/-10. And new users can't see vote breakdowns, so they won't be able to tell the difference between "controversial" or "mediocre" - and then they vote up the riddles because they like them. $\endgroup$ – Deusovi Aug 19 '16 at 20:56
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    $\begingroup$ @AggieKidd: We do that. Emrakul and I even have a macro for it. It doesn't help. $\endgroup$ – Deusovi Aug 19 '16 at 21:08
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    $\begingroup$ @AggieKidd Changing voting culture is mostly about awareness - encouraging people to consciously think about their vote before voting. Closing questions addresses a different problem, which concerns limiting the topic - and they're intended to keep the focus on the good stuff by taking it away from the bad. I think they address two different problems, though there is, admittedly, some overlap. $\endgroup$ – user20 Aug 19 '16 at 21:15

I consider those questions to be really boring, unimaginative, low-quality riddles and downvote them accordingly.


My view has evolved; down voting them isn't working, we're getting more and more of them and they're drowning out higher quality content.

I now believe we should close these questions and have requested a custom close reason.

Rq custom close reason "literal description" for riddles

  • $\begingroup$ I'd second this approach. Rather than quickly closing and deleting (which causes new users to not even see the bad example), down vote but also add a comment stating why so that the poster and other new users understand. $\endgroup$ – Aggie Kidd Aug 19 '16 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ @AggieKidd I take your point although I do frequently VTC "guess what I'm thinking of" questions where there isn't a single unambiguous answer. IMO questions along the lines of "guess what I'm thinking of, it's brown and it has four legs, start guessing now and I'll add hints until you guess right" are a guessing game rather than a 'puzzle' in the sense that we mean it here. $\endgroup$ – A E Aug 20 '16 at 10:46
  • $\begingroup$ So if I see a question with multiple answers that fit the criteria, or if I can easily think of 2 or 3 answers that fit the criteria then I VTC. Otherwise I think we risk being swamped. $\endgroup$ – A E Aug 20 '16 at 10:48
  • $\begingroup$ Fair enough, and good point. But I'd say those are a different category than the trivia proposed in the question. $\endgroup$ – Aggie Kidd Aug 20 '16 at 11:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Aggie True, some qns fit in both categories though! $\endgroup$ – A E Aug 20 '16 at 11:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Aggie The problem with adding a comment explaining the down vote is it starts an argument I don't want to have (as I've just rediscovered with 2 different qns). $\endgroup$ – A E Aug 20 '16 at 15:07

(Reviving this question, since this has come up in multiple flags recently, and we haven't done anything about them yet.)

I think we should close these questions as off-topic, and potentially even delete them - they are not riddles, and maybe not even puzzles at all. Certainly not high-quality enough for the site.

To be clear, my criteria for closing are:

  • directly describes characteristics of an object - its function, history, and physical attributes

  • does not consist mostly of metaphor, wordplay, or other attempts to "veil" those characteristics listed above

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    $\begingroup$ I agree with this. Whilst trivia is an important tag to indicate when puzzles which require specialised knowledge, I don't believe a straight up trivia question by itself qualifies as a "puzzle". In the instances being discussed, people are actually just abusing riddle and dressing trivia up in a riddle's clothing. $\endgroup$ – Alconja Aug 20 '16 at 10:03
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    $\begingroup$ I would add the criterion "has multiple answers that fit the question so can only be 'solved' by lots of people guessing until one guess happens by luck to match what OP was thinking of". (I may have over-worded that, but you get what I mean, I think). $\endgroup$ – A E Aug 20 '16 at 10:52

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