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I've seen a lot of answers lately in here that are obviously the answers the OP expected, but spawned a lot of comments that challenge the answer on really edge cases, or based on things not stated in the question but that should be naturally assumed.

Here are some examples:

There are others, but I lost track. I remembered the 2 I mentioned above because I was directly involved in them.
Note that none of them had the tag attached to them.

To summarize...if there is a question like this: (ignore the low quality. it's just for explanation puporse)

Question: In a barn there are 20 cows and 10 chickens. How many legs are there in the barn?
Answer: 100.
Comment: But what if one of the cows has 5 legs?

So, my question is:

What approach should we take on this kind of comments?

  • Is this behavior encouraged because everything should be challenged in life?
  • Should these be flagged as they are just senseless noise in the website?
  • I should not care about the comments and go on with my life?
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    $\begingroup$ If you made it clear, by including the correct tags, i'd say there's nothing wrong with ignoring and flagging them. They're senseless comments on a question made to make sense. (In this case anyways) $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2016 at 8:24
  • $\begingroup$ Related, if not dupe: meta.puzzling.stackexchange.com/questions/1334/… $\endgroup$
    – Mithical
    Sep 2, 2016 at 8:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Mithrandir. It is not a duplicate, but indeed it's related. My question is about assumptions that are obviously made, and the comments question facts about that assumptions but they are not that far-fetched. The meta question you linked can be summed up as "don't trust the facts stated in the question". Thanks. I will read the answers in there since some of them may apply to my question. $\endgroup$
    – Marius
    Sep 2, 2016 at 9:05
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    $\begingroup$ I feel like most of the time, those comments are in jest, not seriousness. I don't think it hurts to have them $\endgroup$
    – Areeb
    Sep 2, 2016 at 11:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Areeb. Some of them are, and they can be identified easily, but you should have seen the full discussion on the second post I linked. That was not a joke. $\endgroup$
    – Marius
    Sep 2, 2016 at 11:32
  • $\begingroup$ hey...what's wrong with my question? Why the downvotes? You don't even have the guts to leave a comment as an explanation for the downvotes even on meta? $\endgroup$
    – Marius
    Sep 2, 2016 at 13:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Marius In meta, downvotes don't necessarily mean it was a bad question, but only that people don't agree with the premise. Downvoters are likely saying, "No, it's not OK to play the devil's advocate." $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2016 at 15:00
  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't a comment make it more clear? $\endgroup$
    – Marius
    Sep 2, 2016 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ @GentlePurpleRain I disagree (if that makes sense). According to 'What's meta' section in the help center this mentality only applies to feature-requests: "On posts tagged feature-request, voting indicates agreement or disagreement with the proposed change rather than just the quality or usefulness of the post itself." This is just a discussion and Marius also never directly voiced his opinion on the topic in the question, so downvoting because they think it's not OK would be extremely weird, in my opinion. But I guess that's just me... $\endgroup$
    – user14478
    Sep 2, 2016 at 16:52
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    $\begingroup$ I rather suspect the opposite: Since the answers were upvoted by more users (although I obviously don't know if these were the same people), I think some people that do play devil's advocate from time to time don't think this is an issue and don't want a question like this on meta possibly destroying their fun. (Which is still not a good reason to downvote IMO, but this is just my guess) $\endgroup$
    – user14478
    Sep 2, 2016 at 17:00
  • $\begingroup$ My primary issue with these comments is that they can mislead new users into answering logic problems in a lateral-thinking way (though they're also just noise for when actual clarification needs to happen). $\endgroup$
    – user20
    Sep 2, 2016 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ I downvoted based on the comment that the first person "didnt even have the guts to comment" which i feel is overly confrontational. $\endgroup$
    – gtwebb
    Sep 2, 2016 at 20:08
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    $\begingroup$ @gtwebbm you know there is a flag button near the comment, right? $\endgroup$
    – Marius
    Sep 2, 2016 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ @gtwebb What has that to do with the question? $\endgroup$
    – user14478
    Sep 2, 2016 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ @LukasRotter absolutely nothing but Marius seemed to want to know why he was getting downvotes so I obliged, its not a good reason but it is the reason. And no I didn't know about the flag button, usually I just ignore anything I don't like but I must have been feeling controversial. $\endgroup$
    – gtwebb
    Sep 2, 2016 at 22:05

2 Answers 2

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I can see (at least) 3 reasons why someone might make a comment like this:

  1. It's funny. Let everyone have a laugh, and don't worry about it.
  2. It points out the places where the question is under-defined. Sometimes, the question makes unreasonable assumptions, which either cause the intended solution to be invalid, or allow for multiple reasonable solutions. These comments can sometimes help in refining the question to get rid of these assumptions.
    On the other hand, many assumptions are reasonable. In your example, it's reasonable to assume that the question-asker is working under the assumption that all cows have four legs. It shouldn't be necessary for the OP to ask,

    Note that all numbers used in this question are in base 10 (decimal)
    In a barn there are 20 cows, each of whom has no deformities or abnormalities, and none of whom have had any amputations, and 10 chickens, each of whom has no deformities or abnormalities, and none of whom have had any amputations. Assuming these are regular earth cows and chickens, with 4 legs per cow and 2 legs per chicken, and that all of the animals are entirely within the barn, with none of their extremities sticking out a window, door, or any other opening in the barn, and that there are no other creatures in the barn, nor anything else that could be construed as having "legs" (e.g. a table), and that the barn is a regular, 3-dimensional barn with no unusual physical characteristics, no conclaves, no inner courtyards, or any other characteristics that could be used to formulate a ridiculous, nitpicking, pedantic solution to this puzzle, how many legs are there in the barn?

..which leads to...

  1. The user is being a ridiculous, nitpicking, pedantic, sanctimonious a**hole. If it's fairly obvious to 99% of the readers what the OP meant, then pointing out a potential "alternate" interpretation is not helpful to anyone. It's just being a jerk.

I also agree with rand al'thor that posting an answer that relies on some alternate interpretation and/or is only intended to point out omissions or errors in the definition of the question is unhelpful. Such answers should be deleted, since they are not helpful to anyone.

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  • $\begingroup$ You went the extra mile with the politically correctness on this. $\endgroup$
    – Marius
    Sep 2, 2016 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ Re the barn question, do the animals run relay races? Or play cricket? ;) $\endgroup$
    – A E
    Sep 2, 2016 at 22:12
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I humbly suggest that you take the third option:

I should not care about the comments and go on with my life.

Comments are just comments; they're usually not all that important, and upvotes on them don't mean much either. If someone posted an answer to a which involved too much lateral thinking (like your 5-legged cow example, say), that answer should probably be flagged as NaA and deleted. But comments ... meh.

People enjoy their pedantry and nitpicking here. These things often come together with a good puzzling brain, and to discourage them would ultimately be detrimental for the site, especially since many of the more devious puzzles here may actually require this level of pedantry and nitpicking. Even when it's not required, some people like to leave pedantic nitpicky comments, often just for their humour value rather than intended as serious criticisms of the question or answer. Let 'em stand: they're not doing anyone any harm, they allow people to exercise parts of their brain which will be useful for other puzzles, and they can be fun.

See also my answer to the meta question No honor amongst liars. Pedantry extraordinaire! :-D

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for this. You make a good argument. $\endgroup$
    – Marius
    Sep 2, 2016 at 11:34
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    $\begingroup$ "they're not doing anyone any harm" - Just to be pedantic, technically they are doing people harm, since they're causing additional cognitive load leaving less mental capacity for actual puzzling. :P $\endgroup$
    – Alconja
    Sep 2, 2016 at 12:58

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