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Summary: I'd like to create a puzzle which also instils a sense of the 'Cryptic Clue Chat Chains (CCCC)' used in The Sphinx's Lair chatroom on this site. Before I do, I would like to be sure that it fits within the scope of the site.


Idea: To create a puzzle within a particular theme where the answer is a single thematic word that must be identified (in the example I have in mind, the answer will be the name of a board game, for example). The person who posts the correct answer does so with the understanding that they must then have the opportunity to create the next puzzle in the series (to a similar specification), using the solution word as creative inspiration.

Why? I enjoy series of puzzles (you might have realised that already) but nowhere that I can find is there a truly successful series of puzzles created by multiple users. Usually, a series is created by an individual, sometimes with 'tribute' spin-off puzzles created by others unofficially. While the community's Fortnightly Topic Challenge puzzles are a fantastic way to get a lot of users involved in creating related puzzles, a Chain Puzzle adds a slightly different angle - that thrill/fear (delete as appropriate) that if you solve it, you're next. This is part of what makes the CCCC an interesting contest (if everybody just peppered the chat feed with their own cryptics without this structure, the room would be inundated and people would likely lose interest).

Suggestions: To prevent such a thing from going stale or lingering forever, I propose that a 'Chain Puzzle' chain (as I would suggest calling them) ends after the tenth puzzle in the series (i.e. Puzzle #10 is the last in the chain). I would also suggest each puzzle contains a very clear block of text explaining that if you solve it you set the next one, and that we add a tag to enable other puzzles of this type to be found easily. Moreover, if a specified period of time elapses between puzzles (e.g. a month) the user who originally started the chain is responsible for engaging with the user who is supposed to be providing the puzzle and inquiring if this is an obligation they are able to fulfil - if not, then either (i) they close off the puzzle chain formally, or (ii) they create the next puzzle themselves to reignite the chain until the limit of ten puzzles is reached.


I am aware that 'interactivity' is not always considered a good thing on PSE - specifically, puzzles which involve adding new parts as previous ones are solved have been discussed before on meta and outlawed. But the idea behind my proposal here is more a combination of the ethos behind CCCC and Fortnightly Topic Challenge puzzles, which have both been received well by the community and involve interactivity in a sense that is external to any specific puzzle. So...

Question: Is there anything within the scope of PSE that would outlaw the 'Chain Puzzle' type of puzzle? Moreover, are there any other issues that can be perceived here, which I have not already mentioned above? If so, please make suggestions as to how these can be overcome (and feel free to comment on my other points made above).


EDIT: After discussions in comments below (and elsewhere), it has been clarified that the solver of one puzzle is under no obligation to create the next puzzle in the chain, and instead has first refusal to do so. Action to prevent chains ending when a solver prefers not to create the next puzzle is suggested in the main answer to this post.

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  • $\begingroup$ PS If this type of puzzle is deemed off topic then the puzzle I intend as chain link #1 will work just as well as a standalone puzzle and will not be lost :) $\endgroup$ – Stiv Oct 11 at 9:17
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure about this. There's not a rule directly against this that I can think of, but I still have some concerns about its effects. Making a good puzzle is a lot of work, and I wouldn't want to put that obligation on someone just for answering a question (or discourage a good answer because someone doesn't have the time or inspiration to make a successor!) $\endgroup$ – Deusovi Oct 11 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ CCCCs are pretty transient, and it's not too time-consuming to write a valid (if nonsensical) one. Plus, since multiple people often contribute to the solution, it's easy for someone "up next" who is busy to pass it off to a different person. For full puzzles, it's usually a single person who clearly contributes most (if not all) of the answer, and it's a lot more time-consuming. I don't want to force that type of social responsibility on someone, or make them remembered as "the person who broke the chain". $\endgroup$ – Deusovi Oct 11 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Deusovi How about if the person who solves it has the opportunity to create the next puzzle, rather than the responsibility per se? It doesn't have to produce a feeling of obligation or finger-pointing - we as a community can make the culture surrounding the puzzle whatever we want to make it. If we are clear from the start that this is intended as a method for friendly collaboration on a series, then I believe we could maintain that spirit. $\endgroup$ – Stiv Oct 12 at 6:51
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    $\begingroup$ I think if there's no stigma against not being the one to extend it, it's a great idea! It might be hard to state those expectations clearly and succinctly, but I believe it can be done. $\endgroup$ – Deusovi Oct 12 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ If we say this is allowed, we should have a meta post that details the rules and customs surrounding chain puzzles. Then we can point anyone with questions to that post. $\endgroup$ – bobble Oct 12 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ I'll draft a blurb to cover this (it might work best just as an answer to this question rather than as a separate question, since it is pretty much the answer to it...) and people can comment. I'll then set one going as an experimental first test and we can see how it works - if the community doesn't like it, we can stop it and call it an 'unsuccessful experiment'. In that instance we could even water it down to a 'Puzzle Tennis' series where two users agree beforehand to take part, and take it in turns to use the answer to the other's puzzle as inspiration for setting their own (up to 10). $\endgroup$ – Stiv Oct 12 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ Sounds like a good experiment. I'll be your plus one, if you need one. $\endgroup$ – Jeremy Dover Oct 13 at 16:50
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Chain Puzzle format

Here follows a proposed format for Chain Puzzles.

  1. The title of the puzzle should take the following form, clearly displaying the puzzle series theme and the puzzle's numbered position in the series. If desired, the setter can also provide a sub-title for their puzzle, as per usual posts on the site (example):

Chain Puzzle: [Tabletop Games] #01 - [optional sub-title for this puzzle]

  1. At the top of the puzzle text the following text block should be displayed, updating sections marked here in square brackets as appropriate:

This is the [first, second, third, etc.] Chain Puzzle in the [Series Name with Hyperlink to series puzzles] series, in which all puzzles are themed around [series theme]. The answer to this puzzle is a thematic word or phrase. The solver whose answer is awarded the green checkmark has first refusal on the opportunity to create the next puzzle in the series, which must somehow incorporate the answer to this puzzle somewhere within its construction. The solver is under no obligation to create the next puzzle - in the event that the solver does not wish to take up this opportunity, the puzzle's setter may take up the offer of a willing substitute setter or choose to continue the chain themselves.

  1. Exception: The tenth puzzle in any chain is the last. The message on the tenth puzzle should instead read:

This is the tenth and final Chain Puzzle in the [Series Name with Hyperlink to series puzzles] series, in which all puzzles are themed around [series theme]. Once this puzzle is solved, this Chain Puzzle series is complete!

  1. Directly beneath that, a direct link to the previous puzzle should be provided, referencing the answer that has become the theme for the latest puzzle:

The answer to the [previous puzzle] (which provided the theme for this one) was [ANSWER].

  1. At the bottom of the puzzle the following explanatory note should be displayed:

Chain Puzzles are a novel approach to puzzle series creation, in which the solver of the previous puzzle in the chain becomes the setter of the next.

  1. Descriptive tags relevant to the puzzle should be added to act as a content guide, as usual.

Chain Puzzle guidelines

A) By convention, a Chain Puzzle series ends after 10 instalments to avoid staleness.

B) In a given chain, each puzzle (other than the first) should somehow make use of the answer to the previous puzzle in its construction. For this reason, the answer to each puzzle in the chain should be a thematic word or phrase. Setters should please avoid choosing answers for their puzzles that are so obscure the next setter may struggle to create a puzzle using it.

C) Ideally the answer to the final (tenth) puzzle in a chain should remain on-theme but is not bound by the requirement to be 'chain-friendly'. For instance, the answer to the final puzzle could be a phrase or saying that sums up the feel of the series as a whole (e.g. 'SO LONG AND THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH' to a chain of literature-themed puzzles).

D) Solvers should not be put under pressure or feel obligated to create the next link in the chain themselves. In the event that the solver of a Chain Puzzle instalment expresses that they do not wish to take up the opportunity, the puzzle's setter may take up the offer of a willing substitute setter or choose to continue the chain themselves.

E) The puzzle setter is under no obligation to accept the first offer of a substitute setter for the next puzzle. Out of courtesy, offers to substitute for the solver should not be made before the solver has expressed their wish not to continue the chain themselves.

F) To encourage wider participation, chain themes should be kept general - e.g. MOVIES rather than WES ANDERSON MOVIES, or SITCOMS rather than THE OFFICE (UK VERSION). Before setting up a new chain, please raise your theme proposal as a suggestion in the associated chatroom for Chain Puzzles to gauge opinions from regular site users and make sure it is not too niche or obscure.

G) The usual code of conduct for Puzzling Stack Exchange applies to all interactions involving Chain Puzzles. Be nice, be creative, and "Happy Puzzling!"

Template to copy (not the 10th puzzle):

<!-- Title: Chain Puzzle: [series name] [leading-0 number] - [optional sub-title for this puzzle] -->

<sub>This is the [first, second, third, etc.] [Chain Puzzle](https://puzzling.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/7018/chain-puzzle-within-scope-for-pse) in the [series name](hyperlink to series puzzles) series, in which all puzzles are themed around [series theme]. The answer to this puzzle is a thematic word or phrase. The solver whose answer is awarded the green checkmark has first refusal on the opportunity to create the next puzzle in the series, which must somehow incorporate the answer to this puzzle somewhere within its construction. The solver is under **no obligation to create the next puzzle** - in the event that the solver does not wish to take up this opportunity, the puzzle's setter may take up the offer of a willing substitute setter or choose to continue the chain themselves.</sub>

<sub>The answer to the [previous puzzle](hyperlink to previous puzzle) (which provided the theme for this one) was **[ANSWER]**.</sub>

<!-- Insert puzzle here -->

<sub>Chain Puzzles are a novel approach to puzzle series creation, in which the solver of the previous puzzle in the chain becomes the setter of the next.</sub>

Template to copy (10th puzzle):

<!-- Title: Chain Puzzle: [series name] #10 - [optional sub-title for this puzzle] -->

<sub>This is the tenth and **final** [Chain Puzzle](https://puzzling.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/7018/chain-puzzle-within-scope-for-pse) in the [series name](hyperlink to series puzzles) series, in which all puzzles are themed around [series theme]. Once this puzzle is solved, this Chain Puzzle series is complete!</sub>

<sub>The answer to the [previous puzzle](hyperlink to previous puzzle) (which provided the theme for this one) was **[ANSWER]**.</sub>

<!-- Insert puzzle here -->

<sub>Chain Puzzles are a novel approach to puzzle series creation, in which the solver of the previous puzzle in the chain becomes the setter of the next.</sub>

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments and suggestions welcome! This is an experimental format for the Puzzling community as a whole. I will set the first Chain Puzzle going once this proposal appears to be accepted, and set up the tag and associated tag wiki at launch. $\endgroup$ – Stiv Oct 20 at 22:42
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    $\begingroup$ As Dr. Peter Venkman said, "I love this plan! I'm excited to be a part of it! Let's do it!" $\endgroup$ – Jeremy Dover Oct 20 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ New chatroom opened for specifically discussing this puzzle type here. Should help to keep the comments section not so busy here! :) $\endgroup$ – Stiv Oct 20 at 22:56
  • $\begingroup$ Note that a brief discussion about a separate 'chain-puzzle' tag was discussed in chat and the point was made that this would be a meta-tag, which is actively discouraged on SE. $\endgroup$ – Stiv Oct 21 at 15:51

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