I recently created this riddle which requires users to look through Puzzling Stack Exchange for the correct answer. I realized that this kind of question is brittle and shaky, primarily because this kind of question is not timeless. It depends on how Stack Exchange was at one point in time. Things change. Users change. It becomes irrelevant after a certain point in time. I tired to look for elements that were more stable/established, but even those change.

There are other posts that involve Stack Exchange, so it didn't seem off topic. I think what's cool about Puzzling Stack Exchange is users try to work together for answers, to try to answer quickly, get the satisfaction of a cool problem/solution, and then move on. It's function isn't so much as a question repository, as much as it is a living community. This kind of question fits that in a way, since it's so short-lived, but doesn't fit well in a repository.

Is a puzzle involving Puzzling Stack Exchange appropriate for this site?

If not, then what would be a reasonable range of possibilities for a question involving StackExchange sites? What solutions exist to capturing the context of the question for future users that find it?


3 Answers 3


Questions involving Stack Exchange are fine, but you should take care to note that they're solvable long after they're posted. (Part of the purpose of Puzzling, at least in my eyes, is to be an archive of puzzles that are solvable at any point in the future.)

In this case, there are a few issues that might make this puzzle unsolvable later. The puzzle appears to focus around me; it's very possible that I might not be a mod at some point in the future, which would make the puzzle unsolvable.¹ And I could also change my avatar -- in fact, I've been considering changing it for a while now!

In general, I'd say puzzles focusing around some aspect of the SE network are completely fine, but you should make sure that any volatile data necessary is something you control -- otherwise, the puzzle may become impossible.

(1): Not that I'm planning on it! It's just a possibility that you should account for when designing, since you can't be sure it won't.


Just to add to the other answers, here are some other possibilities for constructing a Puzzling Stack Exchange themed puzzle. Warning: spoilers ahead!

  • Using the way post data is stored here: Yet another number sequence puzzle – this is virtually guaranteed to keep working as long as Puzzling Stack Exchange itself, though some of the posts could be deleted. Otherwise, I'll just change the numbers.
  • Using the site design: Can you find a trophy on this page?. This might stop working if the design changes; the achievements dialog didn't always look that way.
  • There have been puzzles about the annual Winterbash, here is one of mine from 2016. It was nice to make, but in hindsight it's very hard to solve now.

Deusovi made an excellent point, just want to add a few more points on.

As Avi pointed out in chat,

"... there are puzzles that relate to the status of Puzzling Stack Exchange at any given point in time that are also good puzzles. For example, the Deusovi Honeypot puzzle used Deusovi's renown as a puzzler (on PSE) as its premise. Although the puzzle took this premise, it was equally good as a stand-alone puzzle" Avi

It should be clarified that the premise of the story was about Deusovi's renowned puzzling skills. The actual puzzle-solving process itself had very little to do with Deusovi's skills as much as it did with mathematics and proving why the impossible maze was (or wasn't) impossible. Deusovi's skills as a puzzler could be volatile (highly unlikely, but anything can happen) but you can trace it back to it and say, "Ah, during this time, Deusovi was a very skilled puzzler." Another important detail was that anyone could have been trapped in the maze, and the puzzle would've made complete sense still (though the story wouldn't have been nearly as entertaining).

Finally, just out of courtesy, (and when possible) you should probably ask the user of choice that'll be featured in your puzzle if they would be okay with that. It's not a set rule or anything, and I'm not quite sure why anyone wouldn't want to be featured in a puzzle, but it doesn't hurt to ask. You could choose not to, which is fine, but my personal suggestion is to ask beforehand. You could always OneTimeSecret them a message at the Sphinx's Lair.


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