We already have a policy on questions from ongoing competitions. This meta question is about them; its accepted answer proposes borrowing the policy used on math.SE, which basically says that if

  • a question comes from some sort of contest, AND
  • the contest is still going on, AND
  • the contest has a definite end-date, AND
  • the contest's questions are publicly available

... then the question isn't permitted, because we have no interest in being a competition-cheating service, and it typically be locked until the contest is over.

This policy serves us fairly well. But we get a lot of questions for which those criteria don't all hold, but where it still seems like the person posting the question is hoping to use the good people of PSE as a resource for some kind of cheating. Examples:

  • "I applied for a job and the application process involves solving some IQ-test-like questions. Please tell me the answer to this one so I can make my potential employers offer the job to me instead of someone else who's better at the things they think their employees should be good at."
  • "I got set some mathematics homework and am not interested in actually learning anything. Please tell me the answer so I can satisfy my teacher without having to think."
  • "I want to join a high-IQ society but don't actually have a very high IQ. Please tell me the answer to these questions so I can get in anyway."
  • "I am applying to a university and they sent me some puzzly questions. I want a place at that university to go to me instead of someone cleverer. Please tell me the answer to this question."

(These questions may or may not actually be good tools for employers, universities, etc., to use, but that's not our concern here.)

Our existing policies filter out some of these questions.

But often that isn't so, and I would prefer unscrupulous people not to get an advantage in job-seeking, college entrance, etc., just by being willing to get other people to do their work for them. (Also, the questions are often not very good puzzles; the existing voting machinery can deal with that, but it's nice if the chaff never gets into the system in the first place.)

There's been some discussion, before, about the special case of trying to get help with homework. Of the concrete policies suggested there, "homework questions should be closed as off-topic" was the most favoured, but the single highest-voted answer is one that says (I paraphrase) "meh, not a big enough problem to be worth worrying about right now". (That was several years ago, and opinions now might be different.)

One difficulty with "no cheating" policies is that it may be difficult to tell whether a given question is an attempt at cheating. Sometimes the questioner will tell us outright. (Again, the attribution requirement helps with this.) But if they claim the question is their own creation, there's not that much we can do. I don't know how common this is. (It isn't common in the cases I know about, but of course if someone convincingly pretends that their question is original then no one will know they're trying to cheat.) I don't know whether the difficulty is any reason not to have a "no cheating" policy. (It might be, if the effect of that policy would simply be to make cheaters lie more.)

Should we have some further policy that attempts to discourage "cheating" questions and/or allows us to close them when they appear? If so, what exactly should it be?

  • $\begingroup$ This may be a bit off-topic/rehashing the statement, but I just want to point out that Math.SE also has problems with contest questions and people not being honest about where they got the question from, despite their comprehensive contest question policy which we took ours from. So I wouldn't expect any policy change we make here to completely get rid of these sorts of cheat-y questions - the best way to deal with most of them is still to vote, close, flag, etc. $\endgroup$
    – HTM
    Apr 9, 2021 at 8:54
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I agree: cheaters will always be with us. But it would be good to have policies that give us maximum support for dealing with them. $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan Mod
    Apr 9, 2021 at 13:14

1 Answer 1


I propose getting rid of the time-limit requirement for declaring something a "contest"*

First, let's take a look at why we have this requirement in the first place. We copied from Math.SE, so I'll just copy in their reasoning here:

If the "contest" has no definite duration, then we do not consider questions on it as contest questions for this discussion. This is to prevent indefinite lock-down of information.

"Indefinite lock-down of information" makes far more sense applied to math than puzzles. Interesting math contest questions can used as examples and learned from. Explaining the process of solving adds knowledge to the Internet.

But at Puzzling, for the "contest" questions we're dealing with, presenting their solutions isn't adding knowledge to the Internet. The vast majority of them are poor quality, guess-what-I'm-thinking puzzles or uninteresting IQ test problems. We wouldn't be "locking down" important, helpful information because there isn't any in the first place. The answers to these questions tend to be non-enlightening, just "hey look this works".

The high-quality puzzles that originate in contests invariably are from the time-limited ones (such as math puzzle competitions) anyways; we already accept those after the contest is over.

Summary of benefits:

  • Job & scholarship applications, along with "high IQ society" entrance tests - all off topic, since they're "contests". We can close these even given attribution, since the attribution is a problem in itself!
  • We're not removing any useful information, or even interesting teaching-to-solve-by-example information, from the Internet - these puzzles weren't interesting in the first place

* For the purposes of here, a "contest" is something where a) you're competing against other people and b) presenting a correct answer to the puzzle will give you a tangible benefit. I'm not sure if this is how we generally define "contest". Note this doesn't cover math homework or IQ tests taken for fun.

Feel free to vote/comment! (This is meta, after all) Is there something I haven't considered here that would be an unintended consequence? Or a benefit that I haven't listed?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I agree that this is an improvement, and in fact I think we are already closing some questions as "ongoing contests" that don't in fact satisfy that condition :-). But I don't think it's _enough. E.g., there's the "questions are public" condition, which I think is irrelevant to us in the same sort of way. $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan Mod
    Apr 7, 2021 at 11:12
  • $\begingroup$ It's not a full solution, but I thought it might help to formalize that a "contest" without definite end date is still off-topic. Help a bit, anyways. $\endgroup$
    – bobble
    Apr 7, 2021 at 17:15
  • $\begingroup$ I definitely agree with that. I just think we might want to go further. $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan Mod
    Apr 7, 2021 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ Hopefully some other answers with more ideas come in, then. $\endgroup$
    – bobble
    Apr 7, 2021 at 19:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ removing the time limit would put questions like The Beale Papers potentially off topic. I'm not sure that is the intent. $\endgroup$
    – SteveV
    Apr 7, 2021 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ There's a difference, but I'm having trouble articulating it right now. Perhaps it's that solving the Papers would be extremely public? (And stealing an IQ test answer wouldn't be). Perhaps it's that people work together on the papers? (As you wouldn't on a job application). Nevertheless, I would say the Papers would still be on-topic - again, just not sure how to explain why I think so. $\endgroup$
    – bobble
    Apr 7, 2021 at 21:57
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I think an important consideration is whether there's some sort of authority that's accepting attempts and judging them. For the Beale Papers there's nothing like that, so far as I know. For a job application or the like, the point is that the cheater is hoping to take whatever answer the good folks of PSE provide and submit it as evidence of their cleverness. $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan Mod
    Apr 8, 2021 at 16:28

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