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Here on Puzzling, we're a little different from other sites. Like, we know the answers before we post the question (usually), and we want other people to come to the same conclusion. And sometimes, we work on puzzles with other people. Take my Clues series. There is a list of Clues, and the puzzles are designed for those answers. I've posted the majority of them, but sometimes, other people have posted some.

Now, the first time I had someone else do one, I knew the guy IRL, so that wasn't a problem. However, when I had someone online do one, we had a problem. How to tell them the answer, and have me preview it, without revealing it so that someone could scrape the answer before it was posted and spoil the fun for everybody? What we did was went to another site on the SE network, created a chatroom attached to that site, and talked. The problem? It wasn't private, and still another user came and spoiled the fun.

Now, there is a way to make a chatroom private - the room is only available to explicitly allowed users and moderators, and the transcript is not publicly available. However, this is, apparently, only supposed to be used for serious stuff:

Private: Only approved users can enter this room (this should only be used for moderation purposes)

However, is there a sufficient reason for changing the rules for Puzzling? I believe so; that's the purpose of this meta post - to see what people think, and then see what the overlords Puzzling moderators and CMs say.

What do you think?


If this goes ahead, you'll want to create a chatroom and then ping a mod who's familiar with this meta post - if you just raise a custom mod flag, you'll probably get a mod who knows nothing about this and it'll get declined. You can probably ping me, rand al'thor, or any of the Puzzling mods.

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    $\begingroup$ This is also good for school/uni students who only have one email and want test-solvers (as long as mods don't peep!). For confidentiality reasons, I don't want to send an email to an online person because the address is quite revealing of my identity. I have only one good person on Puzzling whom I can trust (because they've already got my email). $\endgroup$ – boboquack Apr 4 '17 at 10:03
  • $\begingroup$ Is there any cap on the number of private rooms one can create? Say if you collaborate too much and run out of rooms for actual mod purposes, that'd be a bad thing. $\endgroup$ – Ankoganit Apr 4 '17 at 10:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Ankoganit - why would there be? That would be kinda silly to have a limit. Anyway, that could be another thing to check with the CMs about. $\endgroup$ – Mithical Apr 4 '17 at 10:43
  • $\begingroup$ This might be something to bring up on Main Meta, since it's discussing an exception to a network-wide policy. $\endgroup$ – GentlePurpleRain Apr 4 '17 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ Feel free to migrate it if you think that's better, @GentlePurpleRain. $\endgroup$ – Mithical Apr 4 '17 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ @GentlePurpleRain But it's the community here who need to decide whether this is something we want/need. Main meta is known for being a bit stick-in-the-mud at times, but it's also established that individual sites can make exceptions to pretty much anything if there's enough demand for it. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Apr 12 '17 at 19:48
  • $\begingroup$ I had once suggest private chatrooms could be used to sandbox puzzles (where revealing the answer is required for sandboxing). If this gets accepted, perhaps that could also be reconsidered. $\endgroup$ – ghosts_in_the_code May 7 '17 at 15:24
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So the main concern with a private chatroom is that it's difficult to moderate. We really don't want to stumble across an illicit puzzle piracy ring (or much, much worse) a few months/years down the line. That's the main reason creating private rooms is limited to moderators and there's a scary warning about using it for moderation purposes. But just like how Puzzling pushes the lines of what works in Q&A (successfully, for the most part), it's understandable this site will push the boundaries in chat too.

I think this can be done safely with cautions similar to what Rand proposed.

Setting up the room

If a moderator is willing to set up a room, they can use the room creation tool. It's important that the room have a name and description that match the goal of the room. It doesn't need to be strictly obvious in a way that might spoil the puzzle, but it should be clear this isn't a typical private room for moderation purposes. Also, it should be associated with this site:

Setting up the room

Using the room

While the room is active, the moderator who created it should hang out there regularly. Often the simplest way to do that is to star it:

Star that sucker

That way, you'll rejoin it when you rejoin your favorite rooms. You don't necessarily have to say anything, but it's wise to glance at the conversation and make sure it's not straying from the topic at hand. Obviously, this could be annoying for the moderator, so participants should be careful not to abuse the privilege.

Managing access

I'm not sure how it'll be decided who can be part of the puzzle creation process, but the moderator who creates the room is ultimately in charge of adding (and removing) people:

Managing the room

Once the puzzle has been posted and solved, it's time to wrap up the private chat. While the obvious thing to do it just delete the room, I'd prefer going the opposite direction and make the room public. That way you can link the room in a comment/edit on the puzzle so future readers can see how the sausage is made. In addition, if users know their chat will eventually be public, it should prevent too much mockery of bad guesses.

Ultimately, if a moderator is willing to take responsibility for a private chatroom they can create them for the purpose of creating a spoiler-free puzzle. On the other hand, if this privilege is abused (or if moderators get sick of dealing with it) private rooms may be deleted or made public at any time.

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    $\begingroup$ Re the penultimate paragraph: how about we do both? Once the puzzle has been posted, freeze the room to prevent further discussion (maybe unfreeze if there's any difficulty over edits/hints to the puzzle). Once it's been solved, make the now-frozen room public so everyone can see the creation process (it could also potentially be used for composing a wrap-up answer). $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Apr 23 '17 at 0:49
  • $\begingroup$ @randal'thor I think this could work well in practice. It would also eliminate any problems with people feeling like they're talking behind closed doors - it's still a public chatroom, it's just not public right now. $\endgroup$ – user20 Apr 23 '17 at 12:00
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Sure.

There's already at least one precedent for this that I'm aware of: Deusovi set up a private chatroom for those of us who'd volunteered to be involved in the Community Metapuzzle he made a while back. He sent out some specific instructions to each of us individually by email, but much of the group organisation was done in that chatroom.

I propose a few guidelines which will help to prevent misuse:

  • Private rooms are only to be used for collaboration on creating puzzles. Collaborative solving can be done in public chat - that's not much different from posting partial answers. And puzzles created collaboratively are rare enough that this won't need to be used very often.

  • Such rooms are always to be associated with the Puzzling site. In other words, remember to choose the right option when creating the room. We want our own PSE mods to be able to handle any of these rooms if necessary, without having to ask other sites' mods for help/access.

  • The mod who set up the room is always to remain as room owner. In other words, that mod has responsibility for the room, and can be yelled at if it starts to be misused. The PSE mods will be able to see any private room associated with this site anyway, but it makes sense for the person who set it up to take the responsibility of keeping an eye on it.

    If anyone removes them as a room owner, they lose access to the room and should alert the Puzzling mods so they can be re-added (or the room shut down). Further reading.

  • The room should be frozen once no longer needed. In other words, once the puzzle it was set up to create is actually posted on the site. At that point, the puzzle is public and any further changes to it (e.g. adding hints) can be discussed publicly.

If anyone can think of more guidelines we should have, please let me know in comments.

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  • $\begingroup$ Instead of associating it with Puzzling, perhaps no site would be better. That way every mod on the network can access it, reducing the possibility of misuse. $\endgroup$ – Mithical Apr 7 '17 at 6:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Mithrandir And then we'd get random mods from all over the network, who aren't familiar with Puzzling, wondering what this new moderation room is and dropping in to find out and then maybe shutting it down because "that's not what private rooms are for" and they don't know about Puzzling specifically. Better to keep it here, where people know what's going on. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Apr 7 '17 at 10:47
  • $\begingroup$ This is nice +1 I have added another idea. $\endgroup$ – Techidiot Apr 7 '17 at 12:32
  • $\begingroup$ "In other words, once the puzzle [..] is actually posted on the site." I'd say once the puzzle is solved seems more likely, as there are very likely to be elements of the puzzle's solution or solution path discussed in the collaboration that should not be public until someone has independently solved them. Other than this, I agree with this answer. $\endgroup$ – Rubio Apr 9 '17 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ It would probably also make sense to make the room publicly visible after the need for privacy has passed (e.g. the puzzle is posted and answered). $\endgroup$ – goldPseudo Apr 13 '17 at 2:14
  • $\begingroup$ @gold We could do that, but by that time the room would be frozen and I dunno if anyone would care. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Apr 13 '17 at 11:21
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Can we use private chat rooms for collaborating on puzzles?

Maybe we don't need to?

Suppose Alice and Bob want to collaborate on a puzzle. I'll just show how Alice can safely send a message to Bob; the other direction is analogous. Alice and Bob agree (in normal chat) to follow the following steps:

  • Bob creates a temporary disposable email address; a possible choice would be Airmail. To do this, Bob just needs to go to the Airmail homepage and click on "Get temporary Email"; a random email address and a random password will be generated. Bob takes note of these.
  • Bob tells Alice this temporary email address; of course, he doesn't reveal his password.
  • Alice uses an online service to send whatever she wants: a suitable option is Trash Mail. Again, clicking on the link, typing up her message and hit send is all she needs to do. She also sends a secret code along with the mail.
  • Bob receives the message, and confirms the secret code with Alice in, say, The Sphinx's Lair, to make sure that Alice indeed sent the message.

And we are done!

Advantages:

  1. No personal information needed.
  2. Alice can send attachments, so it's easy to send full-fledged puzzles for test-solving.
  3. No need to bend SE rules and feel guilty forever.
  4. The whole process takes very little time, and way less effort than, say, getting a mod to set up a private room and all that.
  5. In my opinion, security concern is basically zero, because who would bother hacking random temporary emails to get the answer to a puzzle (and spoil the fun for themselves)?

Let me know what you think of this in the comments.

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    $\begingroup$ This seems like an awful lot of trouble for something which could be very easily achieved by a mod taking a few seconds to set up a private room. As for "bend[ing] SE rules and feel[ing] guilty forever" - do you feel guilty forever about posting "questions" here on Puzzling which aren't actually questions about problems you've faced, but rather challenges you've designed for the community? $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Apr 7 '17 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ @randal'thor Just because we've bended rules once doesn't mean we've to do that every time; especially when there are other viable options. $\endgroup$ – Ankoganit Apr 7 '17 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ No, but it does mean that (that part of) your argument is invalid :-) $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Apr 7 '17 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ @randal'thor I'm not sure; even if we've bent SE rules 100 times, isn't it still better than bending the 101st rule? (and yeah, the part about feeling guilty wasn't meant to be a serious argument :D) $\endgroup$ – Ankoganit Apr 7 '17 at 15:41

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