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I've seen our stance on partial answers (where some, but not all, of the puzzle is solved), and I agree with our philosophy that they're basically a good thing for this site. How far, though, does this stretch?

Could a valid partial answer make no actual progress against the puzzle, but still be acceptable and useful? This, for example, could take the form of listing a few complex or difficult things that the solver has tried, but wind up not working.

Though this isn't tied to any specific question or type of question, it was the "What is a Word" puzzles that got this question into my head. For some of these puzzles, I tend to write bits of code to perform various mutations to the words. On this unanswered puzzle, my code has applied ROT-N to various letters in various ways. I feel that this could be useful, to spark ideas in other puzzlers, or to provide/prompt feedback to/from OP. Additionally, it would let OP know that people are indeed interested in their puzzle.

However, this type of answer wouldn't actually make real progress toward the solution, since there generally should be significantly more wrong approaches than right ones.

Even if these answers are permissible, we certainly need some quality threshold (voting is the primary mechanism for this already). Answers that list easy or obvious things like "They all don't start with the same letter, so that's not it" aren't very useful to anyone, but answers that rule out looking at the parity of the ascii codes might be useful to some solvers.

So, do we think that answers that rule out approaches (and do little else) are valid and useful partial answers, or should they be avoided for being not-so-helpful clutter?

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  • $\begingroup$ To provide my own opinion, I think such answers should be given only with great care. For example, ruling out a whole class of solutions, rather than specific solutions. Furthermore, if such things are able to be a comment, they should certainly be a comment instead. $\endgroup$ – Phlarx Dec 20 '16 at 23:18
  • $\begingroup$ What I think is one reason why users give partial answers because they hope that eventually they can complete it to a full answer. But in the meanwhile, it is good to start harvesting some rep... There should be a meta post somewhere allowing partial answers in this spirit. Here: meta.puzzling.stackexchange.com/questions/3002/… $\endgroup$ – Matsmath Dec 20 '16 at 23:25
  • $\begingroup$ These types of things seem like confining the problem space more than moving toward a solution. If I'm trying to get to California from Iowa, it's a good idea to note I shouldn't drive east, but that's not really helping me get closer to my destination. I'd think such things would be best provided as comments. $\endgroup$ – Rubio Dec 20 '16 at 23:37
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I say:

Yes, establishing that a bunch of plausible things don't work is a perfectly cromulent form of partial answer.

What's the point of a partial answer? Either to save work for other people, or to record your progress so far with the intention that it may later turn into a full answer. (And maaaaybe to help the OP know what hints might be useful.)

If there are some obvious things to try, and you've tried them and they didn't work, then

  • others are likely to try the same thing, so your partial answer will save them the work;
  • this is what you've done so far, and it might as well be recorded;
  • the OP now knows that those are the things the puzzle in its existing state encouraged you to try, and also that everyone now knows they don't work.

This way of looking at it also, I think, helps indicate when this sort of answer is reasonable and when it isn't: it's reasonable when (1) trying these things is an obvious thing to do (better yet if it's the obvious thing to do) and (2) doing so takes non-negligible effort.

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  • $\begingroup$ In addition to the points mentioned: sometimes an answer is really just a comment, but it is too lengthy (or requires tables, etc.) which does not fit into the comment section. $\endgroup$ – Matsmath Dec 21 '16 at 11:16
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    $\begingroup$ I'm upvoting to embiggen this answer's score. Also, your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter. $\endgroup$ – Dan Russell Dec 21 '16 at 15:39
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This is not so much an answer, but a personal opinion...
(which I suppose all meta answers are until lots of people upvote them into "policy")

I've seen these kind of answers before, and I think they can be useful (and therefore acceptable), however, I believe they should be held to a higher standard than other answers. The issue is, that not only can a "ruling out" answer be low effort unhelpful noise, they can actually be actively detrimental (does X really not work, or did you just fail to do it correctly?).

So, if you've got some random failed attempts/observations, they should be kept to comments. If you want to take a more rambling brain dump approach, or have lots of ideas that don't seem to add up, then creating a chat room is probably the best place.

If, however, you've done some detailed analysis and can prove (or at least show evidence) that something is definitely not the correct approach, especially if it may superficially appear correct, then it probably does have value and would be worth a "partial" answer.

Whatever you do, make sure you clearly indicate at the top of your answer what it is and is not.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, indeed: make sure you clearly indicate at the top of your answer what it is and is not -- executive summaries are extremely helpful. They are really time-savers to help determine whether or not a lengthy answer worth reading any further. $\endgroup$ – Matsmath Dec 21 '16 at 1:00

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