A latest question by @Amruth A brings up a bothersome question.

Is the "closing" of the questions on the PSE done inconsistently?

Some aspects of closing appear straightforward: No attribution, Duplicate, Offensive.

One that is left to interpretation is: might invite many answers- speculative or incorrect guesses. This one is confusing since it is very subjective.

A question like The silhouette of a hand holding a cylindrical glass jar, in the background is the Milky Way

with 10 answers, many speculative, is left alone. Not one closing vote.

While @Amruth question about 3 fingers is closed because of 6 answers?

If you follow the logic of "many answers", then most Matchstick puzzles will not survive. Many "What am I" puzzles will not either. Riley's affix puzzle got 8 answers with probably more coming.

Is there something fundamentally wrong with just the sheer number of answers? What if many are innovative? On the flip side why not close all questions getting more than X answers? Since any PSE user with 250 reps can vote to close any question, it has created a very large pool of users with those privileges.

As long as questions are getting closed for reasons hard to understand, with other questions with same kind of answers left alone, many OPs are going to be very unhappy.

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    $\begingroup$ You can push it into the CV queue if you want - you've the rep $\endgroup$
    – bobble
    May 2 at 23:24
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    $\begingroup$ Part of the issue with consistency is that we're not one person doing the closing... We're not even one group. Bring in the subjectivity of what counts as closable, and also factor in that some people want a question left open as they enjoy it or some other personal reason, and not because its a good fit for the site - itv was never going to be consistent. $\endgroup$ May 2 at 23:25
  • $\begingroup$ The irony of linking that question of mine is that my other odd-one-out attracted even more speculative answers, and in that case it did so by design. If that's against the rules here then the rules are silly. A puzzle can be problematic if the right answer is arbitrary or subjective, but that is very different to it attracting many answers. $\endgroup$
    – Veedrac
    May 8 at 2:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Veedrac they both seem like there is an obvious answer even if there's lots of speculative downvoted answers. The real issue is if you get let's of upvoted speculative answers. $\endgroup$ May 8 at 10:37

2 Answers 2


As the person who casts the first vote on a lot of "Speculative Answers" questions...

Is there something fundamentally wrong with just the sheer number of answers ... why not close all questions getting more than X answers?

There are legitimate, non-close-worthy reasons for a question to have a lot of answers. One of these is if there's a lot of bad answers: answers which are clearly and objectively worse than the intended one. Puzzling's solution to this, at least as far as I'm aware, is to downvote/delete the bad answers. I downvote usually, leave comments when I have the emotional energy*, etc. However I'm unable to vote to delete (<1k rep left!) and rarely flag**.

What if many are innovative?

If there's room in the question for innovation that is a problem. This is what's so hard about "soft" puzzles like lateral-thinking and odd-one-out: they have to be just broad enough for the answer to be fun, but not any broader or they invite too many answers.

I'd like to repeat the immortal words of our one and only @Doorknob:

The problem is answer validity, not quantity.

If a question has multiple valid answers, it is close-worthy. If a question has multiple answers, that's not necessarily close-worthy. The silhouette question you link has one answer which is clearly better and less arbitrary than the rest. In my opinion the other answers should really be deleted, or at least downvoted severely. However Amruth's puzzle had multiple valid answers and thus merited closing.

Please see Why are questions off-topic if they invite answers which are not demonstrably correct, or are otherwise speculative?

And finally...

If you follow the logic of "many answers", then most Matchstick puzzles will not survive. Many "What am I" puzzles will not either. Riley's affix puzzle got 8 answers with probably more coming.

Yes. It is really hard to make a good puzzle of those types which will have a single objectively correct answer. Those are close-worthy if the other answers match the question as well as the intended one which is common because a lot of these puzzles are poor-quality/low-effort/non-well-enough-defined. If the others don't match well, again, time to downvote and delete. Personally I do the ones I see (though I don't see any affix riddles because I hid them from my homepage).

* In the case you link I did not have the energy to even downvote and was rather hoping someone else would do so. I still don't. I'm not sure why I'm spending so much energy writing this, come to think of it.

** I and the mods have some disagreements as to what is answer enough, so I've stopped trying to flag anything remotely borderline.

*** "Offensive" isn't a close reason, it's a flag reason. You are correct if you don't see any other triple asterisks in this answer, this refers to the question.

  • $\begingroup$ In many cases, 5 users with minimal reputations have the "power" to close a popular puzzle. @Amruth A puzzle for example, over 70 people Upvoted! Obviously a very large majority thought it was a good puzzle. But 5 users did not. You could argue why then those upvoters did not reopen it? Well most upvoters ,like me, will not revisit same puzzle. How many closed puzzles are "reopened"? And who am I to judge if a puzzle is low effort? May be many classic puzzles are low effort but yet brilliant. Sometimes the idea just hits you. I just think closers have to really think about their decision. $\endgroup$
    – DrD
    May 4 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ Let's see, what order to go in? Upvotes = popularity, not quality. Especially for puzzles which HNQ'ed, and so got many visitors who could only upvote and nothing else. Low effort does not automatically mean close-worthy, it just highly correlates with too-broad, which is close-worthy. "Minimal reputation" in this case is 3k, which is the minimum required to gain the trust of the site and the power to close. It is possible to vote or flag for reopening, which will push the puzzle into a queue for other people to look at. The triangle/circle/square puzzle was reopened with such a process. $\endgroup$
    – bobble
    May 4 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ Also, please do not fall into the trap of assuming people who made a decision you don't like didn't think about it. $\endgroup$
    – bobble
    May 4 at 15:04
  • $\begingroup$ "Obviously a very large majority thought it was a good puzzle." that's not how voting works. $\endgroup$ May 4 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ How do you jump to the conclusion that upvotes = popularity not quality. Quality is such a subjective metric. At least upvotes is a QUANTITATIVE metric. I do not think people upvote if they think it is a low quality or "not good" puzzle. $\endgroup$
    – DrD
    May 4 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ Often, people upvote if they like a puzzle, which does not imply the puzzle is good for the site, especially when those upvotes come from off-site visitors unaware of our standards. As I mentioned, this is a particular problem with HNQs, because visitors can largely just upvote, even if they think something is bad. So then views -> votes, which can only be upvotes $\endgroup$
    – bobble
    May 4 at 15:32
  • $\begingroup$ But why would you exclude quality from popularity? Upvotes CAN include high quality also $\endgroup$
    – DrD
    May 4 at 15:40
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    $\begingroup$ There is some relationship between quality and popularity, but what I'm trying to specifically argue against is the statement "upvotes -> should not be closed". Because that's not what they mean. High score is not, by itself, an argument that a question is in-scope for the site $\endgroup$
    – bobble
    May 4 at 15:42
  • $\begingroup$ This site clearly rewards popularity with Badges!. 10 and 25 upvotes get badges. 1K, 2.5K and 10K views are rewarded. There is a major disconnect here. Why didnt they come up with a Quality metric to reward then? Because it is very subjective. And merely 5 users can decide on the quality. $\endgroup$
    – DrD
    May 5 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, of course quality is subjective. Which is why deciding whether something is quality is a democratic, vote-based process, one which can also be reversed in a democratic, vote-based process. There is no magic formula where if you fall on this side you're good, this side you're bad, this is not quantitative. This is a community process, and again, while 5 users can close a question 5 users, including you can open it. $\endgroup$
    – bobble
    May 5 at 19:04

Writing a puzzle is like building a castle.

Bear with me, this analogy gets stretchy.

Assume each answer is an attempt to gain entry, and that we say each castle should only have one valid entrance and a key that opens it.

There's nothing wrong with people trying to enter with different keys or trying different doors. Just like there's nothing wrong with people trying to answer your puzzle and getting it wrong. Maybe there is a false door they try (a deliberate dead end you planned). Maybe they try to swim across the moat (something you explicitly forebode in your design).

It's only an issue is there's multiple valid entrances/keys/answers.

Nobody will begrudge them finding a back door to your castle/puzzle. It's an entry, but it's obviously not the intended one.

But if you could mistake an invalid answer for a valid one then we have issues - this is where the wrong key fits the wrong door. If you have to rely on the posters say so on what's correct then we have issues.

Take the classic joke, which only works out loud:

How do you get to Wales/Whales in a Mini?

The joke asker can always claim the other word was the intended one (n.b. were not saying deceit is the issue), there's no way to verify after the fact that the accepted answer was the intended one at the time of writing.

That's our key issue.


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