I'm new on Puzzling, so please inform me if such a rule (or set of rules) exists.

My puzzle: What is the maximum number of allies that you can have in this scenario?

Original wording:

Suppose you're the U.S. There is crisis in the Middle East, with many sides involved. Your goal is to get as many allies as you can. You make an ally by supporting given side. But it's not that simple. There are conditions (M.B. stands for "Muslim Brotherhood"):

We either support Syrian Rebels or Assad, neutrality is NOT an option

If we support Russia, then we support Assad and Iran

If we support Assad, then we support Iran and do NOT support M.B.

If we support Syrian Rebels, then we support M.B and NOT support Assad.

If we support Iran, then we do NOT support Syrian Rebels, but support Assad

If we support M.B. then we support Hamas

If we support Hamas, then we support M.B. and Iran

If we support Turkey, then we support M.B. and do NOT support Assad

My wording was changed to more abstract. If there is no such rule then I want to return my original wording.

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    $\begingroup$ For me it's not a question of finding a written rule that we can force you to obey, but just a bit of human consideration. However, I've upvoted your meta question here because I do agree it would be nice to get a consensus on this now that the issue has arisen. $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2020 at 17:31
  • $\begingroup$ "human consideration" This thing is subjective. Personally I don't see anything bad/cold/cruel in the original wording of puzzle. Rules are objective. If there are rules, then I shall obey. If not, then I would like to do as I prefer. $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2020 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ Here is my subjective opinion: Games/puzzles are different from reality. For an example, in real life I can be really concerned about, say, proliferation of WMD and M.A.D. Yet I can have fun nuking enemies to death and ruling over radioactive ashes of humanity in "Civilization". $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2020 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ Personally I find it quite scary that people can have such fun with (pretend) nuclear war; however I wouldn't seek to censor such topics out of this site. I think the difference between that analogy and your question is how specific is the thing you're having fun with. A puzzle about nuclear deterrents in the abstract, or about a nuclear war in the fictional land of Bognozia, would be OK; a puzzle about war in Syria is closer to real, specific tragedies which have affected (or ended) many people's lives. $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2020 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ An analogy I would draw is posting a puzzle in 2002 along the lines of "You are piloting an aircraft into New York. Your altitude is A, and your target is to destroy a skyscraper with structure described as follows XYZ. What is the optimal flight path you should choose for maximum carnage?" Even if it's just a game/puzzle, I think most people would describe it as being in bad taste, and perhaps inconsiderate towards those who lost friends and family in the then-very-recent 9/11 attacks. $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2020 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ If this wording is "bad taste", then would it mean that diplomatic game about Syrian conflict would be "bad taste" in your opinion too? $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2020 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ @WeatherVane If you wonder why politics is involved in this puzzle, then it's because I discovered this puzzle in a political video game. $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2020 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ By the way, here is the game that inspired the puzzle: kongregate.com/games/FibreTigre/… $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2020 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ Well, the comments under the puzzle itself have nothing to do with clarification of puzzle details, as they usually would be. It's not even your puzzle, and regardless of its source (which you seem to think excuses it) I don't think you even intended this to be a puzzle, but a provocation, especially with the insistence that the original scenario should remain intact. $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2020 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ One major issue I have is that if this type of puzzle is acceptable then where do we draw the line??? Aside from this, I think this particular puzzle is analogous to "Should User X and User Y team up against User Z?". Yes it could be fictional, yes there may be no actual tensions between these users however it is completely unnecessary and all it can do is cause tensions (intentional or not). Of course I am generalising as if you chose random sides, I still don't think it's ok $\endgroup$
    – Adam
    Jan 11, 2020 at 18:29
  • $\begingroup$ @WeatherVane "It's not even your puzzle". In some sense it's partly mine because I excluded some countries because otherwise the puzzle becomes logically unsolvable. For an example, France. And I was actually solving this puzzle (I wrote Python 3 script that bruteforced solutions). I had my fun and I just wanted to share the puzzle. $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2020 at 18:38
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know if it will convince anybody, but here is the script that I used to bruteforce the puzzle: paste.ee/p/2rzOx And here additional file that I used to make conditions: paste.ee/p/3ACmG I go to sleep, see you later $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2020 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ Related, but the issue here isn't whether politics are allowable in puzzles posted here, but rather whether it is necessary or not in the first place. $\endgroup$
    – HTM
    Jan 11, 2020 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ I personally see nothing wrong with this scenario. This is a puzzle showing a caricatural situation which is not to be taken seriously. Like in other posts I feel it is some people's reactions that are excessive and end up creating the problem. Come on, it is just a puzzle! You might disagree but that is my opinion. $\endgroup$
    – Florian F
    Feb 17, 2021 at 7:55

3 Answers 3


No, there is no such rule.

But that does not mean it is okay.

Neither is there a rule that says I cannot list every top user of the site, along with a personally tailored disparaging comment about their posts that is entirely factual and delivered without any explicitly offensive words. Technically speaking, such a post has no “subtle put-down” (it’s overt) nor “unfriendly language” (the language isn’t the problem, it’s the idea it’s being used to express); it’s not “name-calling” and not a “personal attack” if it truly focuses on the content and not the poster; and a single occurrence of this probably doesn’t rise to the level of “harassment”. And “be nice!” is no longer in the Code of Conduct. So hey, if I make such a post, I’m not breaking any rules so it must be ok, and the Moderators’ hands are tied. Right?

Yeah, not so much.

It’s been quite plainly stated by more than one person that the original form of your question, in its framing, is in very poor taste. It literally starts by telling the reader they must “either support Syrian Rebels or Assad, neutrality is NOT an option”, and goes on from there. This is a global site, and the conflicts your question uses as its central conceit are not distant hypotheticals for many of our visitors and members. If this causes them great personal discomfort, and they say so, it is no longer within the spirit (nor, frankly, the letter) of the rule that you “Be inclusive and respectful”. Just as your freedom to swing your fists ends where someone else’s nose begins, your freedom to control how your post is composed ends where it causes someone else harm.

Even in the absence of an explicit rule against them, some posts are not acceptable on this site. The issue here is not that a real-world political situation is implicated, but that real-world people are, and that despite them saying so, your campaign to return to the original wording continues to do them harm—this is not Being Respectful.

• But I didn’t choose to make this political, “I discovered this puzzle in a political video game”

I heard an amazingly offensive joke the other day, that was misogynistic and racist, and made a mockery of various other minority groups. If I post it and make a puzzle out of its punchline that should be fine, right? I mean after all I didn’t write it, I just adapted it a bit to post it here ...

Yeah, not so much.

It’s your post here. You are responsible for what it says. Profanity is generally not allowed on Stack Exchange sites except where the word(s) in question are the heart of the question. Similarly, while exceptions may be made for language or ideas that are very likely to be inimical to others, if such is indivisibly the core of the question, beyond that such expression should not be permissible (and will not be, on my watch).

Using someone else’s content isn’t a way to get around not being able to post something objectionable.

• “I act according to the golden rule here. There are things that trigger/bother me too, but I don't insist on censoring content that involves them ...”

First off, you probably shouldn’t use the word “trigger” here. People who are discomfited by your puzzle’s original form may very well be accurately triggered by it. Your usage of the term for a visceral reaction to slaughterhouse imagery tends to be dismissive of, and thus disrespectful to, people who have ongoing psychological impact from life-altering events in their past.

Having said that, nobody has a right to go through life without encountering anything they find personally objectionable, offensive, or harmful. I mean, there’s probably someone who will deeply disagree with or be offended by pretty much anything anyone says, ever. Since we can’t please all of the people all of the time, it’s fine to just discount any pushback as the inevitable complaints of minorities, amirite?

Yeah, not so much.

If it is really your intent to “act according to the golden rule” then it’s unclear why you would want to continue campaigning for something people are telling you is causing them harm. This is not a case where someone might hypothetically take offense to something you’ve said. This is people saying you are treating casually something that affects them on a deep personal level, and that this is actively causing them harm. That is antithetical to what the Golden Rule is about.

Not knowing someone else is actually harmed by something you’ve said might excuse saying it. It absolutely does not excuse insisting on repeating it, or preserving it. While “Be Nice!” is not written in so many words in the Code of Conduct, it’s the foundation on which the Code rests. Campaigning for something people are telling you is harmful is not Being Nice.

• “Because I'm stubborn. For my subjective taste the wording is OK because ...”

Anything subjective is my opinion vs theirs, and who’s to say whose position is “right”, right?

Yeah, not so much.

Even where rules don’t make something explicitly out of bounds, Community standards often do. And, beyond that, Moderators serve as the human “exception handlers” to help steer their users and their sites in the right direction, and they are elected because their community trusts them to do so with due diligence and care. And, should they overstep, the community can seek to correct any harm done.

So I’m going to state my opinion that the post, in its original form, unnecessarily uses subject matter that a reasonable person could or should know is likely to be divisive or harmful to others; that just because a position or an opinion is a minority one doesn’t mean it is okay to dismiss it (and, indeed, there are many cases where minority positions need to be actively defended lest they be unfairly lost simply by being drowned out); that there is good cause here to curtail the right to express oneself freely in the manner of one’s own choosing because it overly impinges on others for no benefit; and that in the face of rational and rationally expressed objection to the original post, leaving it in place (or restoring it) is not being respectful to those it harms and is thus discordant with our Code of Conduct.

At this point I am tending to agree with another commenter that it seems hard to imagine you persisting here in good faith.

I will be cleaning up some comments that are a bit too aggressive from both perspectives, both here and on the puzzle post itself. The edit wars have stopped, but if there is continued effort to restore the original form of the puzzle, I will take appropriate action to forestall that as well.

Sometimes, in the case of a disagreement of opinions, Moderators need to step in and act on their consciences. I am doing so.

  • $\begingroup$ "This is not a case where someone might hypothetically take offense to something you’ve said." Neither is hypothetical my reaction to slaughterhouses. It's also according to the golden rule because if one day I will start pushing for censoring content that I find personally traumatazing, then I prefer to be pushed back by content creators and be told to just ignore content. " I am doing so.", Okay, I obey. $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2020 at 3:30
  • $\begingroup$ When and why was the "Be Nice" policy removed? Just curious when it changed, I've been gone for a while. Was it replaced with something else? $\endgroup$ Jan 14, 2020 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ @North - it was replaced by puzzling.stackexchange.com/conduct a while ago. $\endgroup$
    – Mithical
    Jan 16, 2020 at 12:35
  • $\begingroup$ @North August 7, 2018, with this announcement. $\endgroup$
    – Rubio Mod
    Jan 17, 2020 at 2:37

So... here's my take on this. I live in the Israeli Golan Hights, which is... fairly close to Syria. Close enough that for several years I occasionally heard explosions coming from the conflicts.

I don't appreciate the setting of the puzzle.

First off, it's just unnecessary. You're perfectly aware that this is a charged topic. The puzzle itself works perfectly well without this particular setting. It's completely unnecessary.

The topic is one that its most common association is with death, destruction, and terror. Forget politics, if I see the name "Hamas" I think of my cousins' house that was struck twice by missiles. (They're all fine and safe, but... still.)

Hundreds of people have died. It's a traumatizing topic for a lot of people. There is no need for you to include it in such a puzzle.

It has nothing to do with being political and everything to do with simply being a decent human being.

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    $\begingroup$ ....I'm finding it a bit hard to believe you're acting in good faith here. Why are you so intent on preserving the original form of the puzzle when you're been told by numerous people that it bothers them? Is it so hard to be empathetic to other people and change the setting that has no actual bearing on the puzzle itself? Sheesh. "just avoid it" is not an appropriate response to "this is disrespectful and inconsiderate". $\endgroup$
    – Mithical
    Jan 11, 2020 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ "Why are you so intent on preserving the original form" Because I'm stubborn. For my subjective taste the wording is OK because game!=reality. I was actually suprised that it caused such reaction. And I don't like to voluntary participiate in building of trigger-filled world where triggers of minority (seriously, how many people here are from the Middle East?) lead to majority walking on eggshells. $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2020 at 18:34
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    $\begingroup$ Being a conscientious human being is not walking on eggshells. $\endgroup$
    – Mithical
    Jan 11, 2020 at 18:35
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    $\begingroup$ I think both of you are failing to see the other's point of view. @user161005, I can understand that you don't want to have to censor yourself or to avoid any topic that might offend someone. But this is a case where some actual people have told you that the puzzle bothers us, personally. (I'm not from the Middle East, but I too know people IRL who have been affected in ways I can't even imagine by the Syrian conflict.) Can you see it as an issue, not of building a trigger-filled world, but of respecting the people around you (not even some faceless "minority")? $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2020 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Randal'Thor I act according to the golden rule here. There are things that trigger/bother me too, but I don't insist on censoring content that involves them. I don't eat flesh of mamals/birds and such things as depection of a slaughterhouse upset me. Yet I wouldn't wish to censor a game that involves slaughterhouse (I would either avoid it or tolerate it by reminding myself that game!=real life.) $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2020 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ @user161005 I'm going to point you to the Code of Conduct, which in particular requires users to "be inclusive and respectful" and avoid "unfriendly language." Your comments and actions here definitely violate these policies, unless I'm completely misunderstanding your intentions here. $\endgroup$
    – HTM
    Jan 11, 2020 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ If the reason for using version A of the puzzle is "at least two frequent participants here find the other one upsetting", and the reason for using version B is "the person who posted it finds it disagreeable to have their wording changed", then using version A is a no-brainer. Not because there's a rule against mentioning politics (though doing so is very rarely a good idea around here) but because, all else being equal, upsetting people is bad. There may be cases in which people are unreasonably and unpredictably upset [... continues] $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan Mod
    Jan 11, 2020 at 22:35
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    $\begingroup$ and perhaps in those cases it's best not to cater to those people in order to avoid a walking-on-eggshells world; but this seems to me plainly not such a case. The topic here is one many people have very good reason to be upset by. (I suspect that we would disagree about how common it is for people to be "unreasonably upset", but that doesn't particularly matter right now.) $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan Mod
    Jan 11, 2020 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ @HTM If I act according to the golden rule then I act respectfully $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2020 at 3:13
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    $\begingroup$ @HTM But anyway, I will obey becasue a mod said so. I just wanted to say that from my point of view I acted respectfully. $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2020 at 3:32
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    $\begingroup$ @user161005 Saying you act respectfully and adhere to the golden rule, does not make it so. $\endgroup$
    – Rubio Mod
    Jan 12, 2020 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Rubio I know, but I treated people by the same standard I would prefer to be treated in their situation. If it's disrespectful behavior for you, then it logically entrails that I would prefer to be treated disrespectfully (by your standards) if I were in their place. The only thing that you can really accuse me of is that my behavior wasn't inclusive enough. But anyway, I don't expect you to change decision, I just wanted to say all it to get off my chest. $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2020 at 16:23

This is a matter of good taste vs. bad taste.

If a puzzle setting absolutely requires war, death, murder, disease, rape, incest, cannibalism, or some other aspects universally deemed abhorrent in a civilised society, then it should of course stay in the puzzle. In that case, it's in good taste to place the puzzle in a fictional or hypothetical setting.

This puzzle could survive without the war aspect altogether, for example it could work in a "who to invite to the birthday party" setting, where it might almost make sense to maximise the number of "allies" regardless of their other properties.

Now, the core of the puzzle itself isn't half bad, which is why Rand wanted to save it, by removing the disgusting sauce while keeping the juicy main entrée intact, so to speak. This is how our community works, and how it is supposed to work.

If you disagree with this judgement, and insist on having actual war in the puzzle (for example, because it's how you came up with the idea of the puzzle, and you see it really important to keep it in), then you should totally do so, you are the OP after all. It will add nothing to the puzzle, however, and it will cause a steady rain of downvotes, I'm afraid, so you might feel like we didn't appreciate the puzzle or the puzzle author, while it's really just the wantonly distasteful setting that we objected to.


We are not trying to police you, we are trying to improve the quality of your puzzle by removing non-essential elements that we see as being in bad taste.

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    $\begingroup$ Good explanation. The issue is that the war part was both specific (about an actual dangerous real-life situation) and gratuitous. Not just "boo hoo, mentioning war makes us sad" which seems to be the kind of impression the OP was getting from us. $\endgroup$ Jan 12, 2020 at 14:17

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