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I'm sure this has probably been hashed out to death here. Can someone give me a quick rundown on whatever the current consensus is about word puzzles being on- or off-topic here?

From a quick visit to Wikipedia, it looks like word puzzles are thought to have more relaxed constraints than other puzzles. In general, it looks like the categories of puzzles mentioned there are assumed to have no more than one solution, but word puzzles seem to be different.

For example, you'll probably never find every possible word in Boggle or get the best possible score in Scrabble; there are many solutions, but that doesn't preclude them from being puzzles. Does this site take the same view of word puzzles? If not, what view is taken here instead, and why?

Which criteria must word questions meet to be on topic? Do any disqualifying factors exist? Please cite any relevant meta-discussions.

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  • $\begingroup$ For the record, I don't have much experience with word puzzles outside of having played some of the games mentioned on Wikipedia. When I think of puzzles, I usually tend to think of the sort of thing you'd find in a Smullyan or Kordemsky book. $\endgroup$
    – Guest
    Feb 6 '18 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ Could you give a more precise description of what you mean by "word puzzles"? We have a big word tag, but presumably you don't mean all of those. Are you thinking more of the questions generally tagged language or english? $\endgroup$ Feb 6 '18 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Randal'Thor, I'm thinking of puzzles with potentially many solutions, involving finding lists of words or similar. Rather than math puzzles or logic puzzles, say. You know, similar to Boggle, or Scrabble, or other things Wikipedia lists as "word puzzles" in that article I linked. $\endgroup$
    – Guest
    Feb 6 '18 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ "potentially many solutions" and "finding lists of words" both sound like they might make the puzzle too broad ... Are you thinking of puzzles like these, for example? $\endgroup$ Feb 6 '18 at 18:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Randal'Thor, yes, probably, haven't seen all of those. What are they "too broad" for, exactly? Like, too broad to have a single correct solution? $\endgroup$
    – Guest
    Feb 6 '18 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ "too broad" is one of the standard close reasons on SE. Essentially, yes, it means too broad to be uniquely answerable. Most of the questions on that list I linked to are not too broad, though, because they ask for some kind of superlative: e.g. "what is the longest something satisfying something something" rather than just calling for examples. They're open-ended only in the sense that any answer could theoretically be surpassed by a new better one, not in the sense that all answers are equally valid. $\endgroup$ Feb 6 '18 at 19:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Randal'Thor, That's pretty much what I expected... so this one has been closed in error, according to that logic, correct? $\endgroup$
    – Guest
    Feb 6 '18 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ I think so, yes. I voted to Leave Open when I saw it in the review queue. I've now edited to clarify the title, and voted to reopen. $\endgroup$ Feb 6 '18 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ Right, I think so too, because the asker wants a single word, and the best answer can simply list more forms of some word than the other answers. Seem like pretty solid criteria to judge on. $\endgroup$
    – Guest
    Feb 6 '18 at 19:10
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Not every puzzle is a good fit here.

In particular, the Stack Exchange network uses a question and answer format and is generally looking for questions that actually have AN answer, making “list requests” (questions like “What word puzzle sites are there?”) generally not accepted because they cannot be answered definitively. While Puzzling.SE turns things somewhat head over heels in that in many (most?) cases the person posing a “question” already knows the answer and is challenging others to find it, we still follow most of the norms for the Stack Exchange network.

Here’s the guidance I usually offer:

Puzzles with no "right" answer are generally discouraged; you should have some objective criteria, even if arbitrary, for determining the "best" or most "right" answer, so that we're not just assembling a collection of alternate answers.

So while we do have puzzles here that are open-ended in that the best answer is not (necessarily) known at the time the question is asked, criteria are given as to what answer will be deemed the best. This is pretty common for word game puzzles that, for example, might challenge answerers to find the longest dictionary word that is a simple concatenation of three letter dictionary words, or the highest scoring word that can be played as a first turn in Scrabble using a particular set of tiles, or the like. Even if not particularly interesting or good, these examples would be on-topic puzzles that could be asked here.

But an open ended challenge with no objective criteria for determining a “best” answer among many valid responses would be closed as “Too Broad” because, well, that’s essentially the very definition of what a Too Broad question is - one with many possible answers, none of which is clearly the “right” answer. Such questions might be valid and interesting puzzles in their own right, but they do not fit how this site works and so would not be appropriate here.

One final thought - there is a difference between Too Broad, which is what your concern about many possible answers would run afoul of, and Off Topic, which is itself a (different) reason for a question to be closed. A question that has a single answer, or an objectively measurable “best” answer, may be safe from being closed as too broad but still be off topic for the site it is posted on (or perhaps for ANY site here). For example, we frequently see math questions asked here. Some are just questions that you have to figure out how to solve, which might be puzzling for some but by no means a puzzle. Others have a definite puzzle vibe - there is a key element of the unexpected, what we’ve called the “aha moment” - that makes them puzzles and not mere math exercises. The former are actually off topic here because, while they are something with a right answer that the asked wants us to solve, they’re not puzzles. Word questions, similarly, may not always be actual puzzles.

I hope that helps!

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  • $\begingroup$ Got it, thanks. And I suppose good old SE in general is still locked in the constant CV / reopen cycle by higher rep users? Or is there some new mechanism to dispense with that nonsense? $\endgroup$
    – Guest
    Feb 6 '18 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Guest This is the only stack I frequent, to be honest, so close/reopen cycles of which I am blissfully unaware may well still go on elsewhere. I don’t think it’s a huge issue; I get the feeling it generally only happens when the question has actually changed in the interim. For sure, a question can only hit the Close review queue once in its lifetime, so that alone limits the opportunity for endless churn. $\endgroup$
    – Rubio Mod
    Feb 6 '18 at 19:28
  • $\begingroup$ Ahh, that might be a new(ish) development... good to know, thanks :) $\endgroup$
    – Guest
    Feb 6 '18 at 19:31
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    $\begingroup$ "For sure, a question can only hit the Close review queue once in its lifetime" - that's not true. Every time a question is reopened and then re-VTCed, it hits the Close review queue again. $\endgroup$ Feb 6 '18 at 19:45

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