There are several puzzles on site now that follow the lines of

Make $x$ using the numbers $w$, $y$ and $z$. Only (), x, /, + and - is allowed

In my opinion, this isn't a puzzle.

We are simply applying mathematical operators to some given numbers to find a given outcome. For a start, it's trial and error, and secondly to me this just seems like maths, no puzzle involved. They also seem to me as if they could be homework questions.

There are some puzzles listed below which roughly follow the above examples layout, most haven't been received well.

Though there have been some good variants of such types of puzzles. However these are variants. If someone can find a good example of such a question which isn't a variant, please link it in the comments.

Should such questions be on-topic, or be closed as a mathematical problem?

  • $\begingroup$ As I have stated above, I don't think they should be on-topic, but don't have time right now to right up an answer. If no-one else has I will do so tomorrow. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ I'd like to note that there are some which are classic problems (e.g. 3,3,8,8 or 1,5,5,5 to make 24) which I personally wouldn't mind considering puzzles, but these are few and far between (and once you get the gimmick once, there's not much room for creativity). The major problem here, of course, is that it's very easy to mass-reproduce badly thought out instances of these and call it a "puzzle". $\endgroup$
    – Sp3000
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ It is too easy to create this kind of puzzle. So I never vote up this kind of puzzle. I agree to put this puzzle as off-topic, or as duplicate on another similar puzzle.. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 4:42
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    $\begingroup$ I think if it comes down to "puzzle or not" then voting is the way to go, not banning. If somebody makes X puzzles which Y people don't like and downvote, X will stop posting them. If Z people upvote them, well then obviously Z people think these are (good) puzzles. ( I don't. But it also depends on the framing of the actualy question. ) $\endgroup$
    – BmyGuest
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ I think such questions should simply be closed as dupes of similar questions unless they offer something fundamentally new. $\endgroup$
    – xnor
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 0:03

2 Answers 2


Of course. What's wrong with them?

We even have a whole tag for this kind of puzzle, , with 120 questions at the time of writing. They're perfectly valid and sometimes interesting puzzles.

  • We are simply applying mathematical operators to some given numbers to find a given outcome. For a start, it's trial and error, and secondly to me this just seems like maths, no puzzle involved. They also seem to me as if they could be homework questions.

    I don't know what kind of maths homework you get at school, but I couldn't imagine a question like this appearing in standard homework. It's more the sort of thing I'd expect to see in a puzzle book.

    And they're not (at least, the good ones aren't) just maths problems. There's almost always an 'aha' moment, which is one of the hallmarks of a maths puzzle as opposed to a maths problem. Some of them also produce unexpected results by unexpected methods.

  • Yes, these puzzles are mass-producible. But there's nothing wrong with that, per se. Sudoku puzzles are mass-producible, if you just have a sudoku book. Word ladder puzzles are mass-producible. Riddles and logic-grid puzzles are to some extent mass-producible.

As a wise man once said, don't try to ban sprouts from vegetables.SE just because you don't like them. These are valid and reasonable puzzles, and some people enjoy making and solving them - why try to spoil it? You can always put the tag on your ignore list.

  • $\begingroup$ Okay fair enough, however I know there are good puzzle out there, I'm not trying to get them closed. I'm just thinking the one which is currently newest and an awful puzzle in both explanation and in puzzling should be closed as too broad or as a maths puzzle $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Beastly How about just downvoting it? Not every bad question needs to be closed. See also. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ Also 'don't try to ban sprouts from vegetables.SE just because you don't like them.' I don't think it's just me that doesn't like them. The current newest is at -5. It's also not just because of that, but also because I don't think they are puzzles. Maybe I should rephrase the question to be more specific in the puzzles I think should be closed? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Beastly You can't judge an entire tag with hundreds of questions just by the last one posted, which didn't even exist when you made this meta post. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ I think people may have got slightly confused on what puzzles I'm talking about. I'm targeting ones which are exactly like the example at the top and the newest post. I agree there are some great puzzles like this, but they aren't the same as the example at the top $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 17:40
  • $\begingroup$ actually there are math problems in grade school that involve inserting the operators into blanks in a statement to get the final number. They are exercises used to teach the order of operations. I remember having them back in the day. So... I can see how the incredibly distilled version beastly is proposing could be taken as homework. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 3:13
  • $\begingroup$ @TheGreatDuck Inserting the operators into blanks is a different kind of problem, much simpler and doable by trial-and-error. Most of the formation-of-numbers puzzles here involve thinking outside the box, using unusual operations, and don't have any order given at the start, so it would be unfeasible to do them by trial-and-error. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 10:54
  • $\begingroup$ @randal'thor Beastly Gerbil wasn't asking about the tag. He was asking specifically about the type of question I just described. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ @TheGreatDuck No he wasn't. Only one of the questions he linked to has that structure; the others are in the more standard "make $N$ using $a,b,c,d$" structure. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 15:07

Looking at it from outside, this is a good question in my opinion.
I actually thought about it for a while.
Here is my conclusion.
These questions should be on topic.

Here is the definition of "puzzle" (part of it).

puzzle pʌz(ə)l noun
1. a game, toy, or problem designed to test ingenuity or knowledge. "those who solve this puzzle in the shortest time are eligible for awards"
2. a person or thing that is difficult to understand or explain; an enigma. "the meaning of the poem has always been a puzzle" synonyms: enigma, mystery, paradox, conundrum, poser, riddle, question, question mark, problem;

I think the number formation questions fall under #1.
They involve some knowledge, at least the operator priority and what .1 means and how you can express that as a fraction.
And they involve a lot of ingenuity.

On a personal note, I really like this type of questions and enjoy "wasting time" to solve them.

An other view on it. There are already 120 questions tagged (not to mention the ones that should be tagged the same way but they are not). Some of the questions have 35+ votes. This means something. People appreciate them.

Please, pretty please, don't take these away.

I'm done. These were my $1\% + \frac{.1}{10}$ USD on the topic.

  • $\begingroup$ Hmm interesting opinion. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 9:37

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