(Kinda) related Puzzles/Puzzle Clues Related to Narrow/Restrictive Topics like Video Games

Lately, for me, there are a lot of puzzles and riddles which involve a certain amount of knowledge in order to be solved. If there is no knowledge tag and the answer was something like 'fingers' or 'the moon' I could accept that I was being dumb and they fooled me.

But in this example The strange story of Lord Lefthide
The answer was about an anagram of a name I've never heard about.
To look at an unknown song (for me) of a band I've only heard about.
To pick some words which relate to books I've never read.

And when I see these answers, they seem unfair and it doesn't get the satisfaction it deserves. (It may sound like a rant, but it was a nice riddle)

There are others of course, with the same issue. (Puzzles about ancient mythology, works of Shakespeare, etc.) Sure, if some hints are dropped, it often would be solvable with some google-skills. And to some people, these topics might sound like common knowledge.

But my question is; When does a puzzle use common knowledge and when does it need a knowledge tag?


1 Answer 1


I totally agree that the specific example you linked should be tagged (in fact, I've edited it in). In this instance, it could even have been , but that may be too much of a hint, and I don't mind people using slightly more ambiguous versions of tags to help hide information, just not complete omission. However, your more general question is a little more difficult to answer, beyond "I'll know it when I see it", but let's have a go at codifying...

You should use if you answer "yes" to any of the following questions:

1. Would the "average person" be oblivious to the subject/fact?

If I took a bunch of reasonably intelligent people at random, would less than half of them even know of the information required? So people like:

  • your mum
  • a teacher
  • a work manager
  • the news anchor
  • publican from your local
  • any of the above, but from a country on the other side of the world

Note that I say "know of the information", so they don't necessarily have to know the details, but they'd need to know what to google for to find the specific answers. I'd expect most/all of the above to recognise that The Beatles is a band (even if they didn't know any songs), maybe one or two to recognise Metallica, and none to know of Igorrr. Similarly, I'd assume most could name a few US presidents (even without being American), a couple to know a French president or two, but none to know any ex-presidents of the Maldives.

If a majority of average PSE visitors would not be aware of the information required, then you should use .

2. Do you need the appropriate knowledge before you start working on the puzzle?

The direction in which you work through the required knowledge in a puzzle is important. If a puzzle makes clear (or hints heavily at, or indicates after solving the first part, etc) that you need to know the names of the bones in the human body then the solver can google a list to assist them continue on without requiring them to have that knowledge up front. If the puzzle requires solvers to stumble across "coccyx" during solving and recognise it as the name of a bone, then that's less fair.

If a solver can't derive the required information based on the puzzle itself (and obvious subsequent googling), then you should use .

3. Is the required knowledge difficult to obtain quickly/easily?

If you've got past the first two questions, the third hurdle for the solver would be whether they could easily obtain the knowledge required once they know they need it. If all the information is available, say, in a single Wikipedia list page, then it's probably OK. If you need to reference multiple web pages or use tools to gain the knowledge then it's probably not. If you need a specialised degree (or access to the textbooks thereof), then it's certainly an issue.

If a solver can't find information they know they need in a single, obvious location, then you should use .

If your puzzle relies on some form of outside knowledge, but you can answer "no" to all three of the above then you probably don't need (or //). If any of them is a "yes", then I think it is probably warranted.

That being said, all of the above has been about trying to specify when should be a required tag. It would still be perfectly acceptable (and even preferable) to include it even if you answered no to the three questions when your puzzle requires having/applying specific knowledge. Personally, I'd still use it if any sort of knowledge beyond, say, a high school level were an integral part of the puzzle (which is probably true if you even need to answer question 3 at all).

  • $\begingroup$ It might be worth noting that there are cases where knowledge is explicitly the right tag. It says that it "relies on external sources (like tables, dictionaries, wikipedia)" — and there are some puzzles that literally rely on a Wikipedia entry or use the reference A-number for an OEIS sequence etc., making the tag required as well. $\endgroup$
    – Rubio Mod
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 8:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Rubio - I would actually argue that it's the tag description that needs fixing. I went through all 56 knowledge questions and didn't find a single one using it that way. They all use it to indicate there's some specialised (but usually unspecified) knowledge required/involved. Further, if a puzzle did need an explicit external source (as opposed to just the knowledge thereof), surely that would no longer need to be tagged with knowledge (though of course it would still be fine to do so), since the actual link to the source is all that matters, and at that point it's just "data"? $\endgroup$
    – Alconja
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 0:59
  • $\begingroup$ In that case, what about trivia? Can we finally merge the two? (I never know which to use when creating a puzzle that relies on some nontrivial piece of knowledge, and usually end up using trivia because the tag wiki suggests that knowledge is more for "needs checking in tables/encyclopedias" than "needs specific cultural knowledge". $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know. In my opinion, it is about the amount of depth of a subject. I wouldn't use trivia for a French Revolution question (some global googling might give you an answer.), but only using knowledge for a spiderman-puzzle seems too broad. Using trivia without knowledge seems wrong, since you need to google quite a lot for your answer. But it warns you that you already need to have some knowledge about a specific subject before attempting the puzzle. (If you don't want to spend hours with google.) (But this discussion could be saved for the other meta-post @Randal'Thor linked) $\endgroup$
    – PL457
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ +1 I think the first point should be part of the tag wiki (of which there is none). Having a quote from the Beatles likely wouldn't require knowledge but while most have probably heard of Metallica, and if that was the answer then knowledge may not be needed, but their actual songs should require knowledge. Similarly, most people have probably heard of Pokemon, but requiring knowledge of certain ones means knowledge! $\endgroup$
    – Tas
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 23:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Tas Even a quote from the Beatles should require a knowledge tag. Sure, almost everyone has heard of them, but a lot of people of 30 or younger can't even name 3 or more songs. $\endgroup$
    – PL457
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 9:50
  • $\begingroup$ It occurs to me reading this that "knowledge" might be getting used to excuse a poorly clued puzzle. How do I know if I have the "knowledge" required to answer a puzzle if as suggested by (2) I don't know what field of "knowledge" I need? How do I tell the difference between "I don't have the knowledge required to answer this" and "I need to think about this more to put the pieces together"? $\endgroup$
    – Barker
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 0:28

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