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Puzzles of the form "Make X using the digits [list of digits] and the operators [list of operators]" are on-topic (and unpopular among some). They fall under the tag . However, a puzzle which lacks a list of allowed operators is subject to closure, e.g. as "Needs Details or Clarity". Insufficiently specified operators are most commonly due to either:

  • a complete lack of text about allowed operators (e.g. "Make X using the digits [list of digits]." is the full question)
  • a vague statement along the lines of "all mathematical operators are allowed" (occasionally a puzzle which is initially of the other type will be edited to be this)

We have established ways to deal with the off-topic puzzles. These are friendly comments to point out the problem, combined with close-votes as a temporary measure until the proper edits are made. However, because closure takes time, it is still possible to post an answer to the underspecified question. I recently saw two examples. These answers start by declaring what operators they assumed were acceptable. Notably, they may either be incorrect in their assumptions, or someone else may post a different answer with different assumed-acceptable operators.

What should I, as a non-diamond community moderator, do when I see such answers? Is it appropriate to:

  • post a comment noting that the question is currently off-topic, and request that they refrain from answering such puzzles in the future?
  • post a comment noting that the question is currently off-topic, and request that they delete the answer until a the puzzle is edited?
  • downvote the answer (accompanied by one of the above comments)?
  • flag the answer as Very Low Quality or for moderator intervention?

What actions are appropriate to take when someone posts an answer to an underspecified puzzle?

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3 Answers 3

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the question is currently off-topic

Yeah, well, y'know, that's just, like, uh, your opinion, man. Stack Exchange requires multiple closure votes (or one supervote) precisely because it doesn't trust your opinion. (Nothing personal, of course.) Unless and until the question's closed, it is (tautologically) open to being answered. And if a user doesn't agree with you that it should be closed, there's no reason whatsoever for him not to answer it.

So, to address your questions:

Is it appropriate to:

  • post a comment noting that the question is currently off-topic, and request that they refrain from answering such puzzles in the future?
  • post a comment noting that the question is currently off-topic, and request that they delete the answer until a the puzzle is edited?

I don't see anything wrong with either of those courses of action, provided that the request is penned with my thoughts (above) in mind, which should temper its wording.

  • downvote the answer (accompanied by one of the above comments)?

Shrug. Whatever. Downvoting is always an option for anything.

  • flag the answer as Very Low Quality or for moderator intervention?

I don't see why. It's not low-quality and it certainly doesn't require moderator intervention. (Unlike the question, which is low-quality.) If the question is closed and the asker wants to edit it in such a way that will render the existing answer a nonanswer, then the asker should request/flag the answer to be edited/deleted, as should any reopening voter. (Better yet, don't reopen it: post a new question instead.) But as long as the question hasn't been closed, the answer shouldn't be flagged.

The above is all, of course, my personal opinion; it's based primarily on my experience on another Stack Exchange site (but also slightly on my experience on this one). I should note, too, that it's about underspecified questions in general, rather than just underspecified formation-of-numbers questions.

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  • $\begingroup$ What's different about underspecified puzzles of this genre, though, is that we have a very clear, community-consensus, dividing line between "acceptable" and "underspecified": whether a list of operators is given. This makes it much less my opinion. $\endgroup$
    – bobble
    Commented Mar 6 at 14:52
  • $\begingroup$ @bobble Even that "community-consensus" is only your opinion and that of a few other people. And it evidently is false - i.e. there is no consensus. (majority ≠ consensus) $\endgroup$
    – xamid
    Commented Mar 14 at 4:45
  • $\begingroup$ @xamid by that logic nothing on meta has consensus, since the majority of the site does not even bother to check here, but as it's the best method we have for asking the community, what do you suggest to replace it? Or should we each proceed assuming that we may not do anything - or that we may do anything - because no unambiguous majority exists to tell us otherwise? I'm not even one of the people who voted on the posts that I linked to. $\endgroup$
    – bobble
    Commented Mar 14 at 4:48
  • $\begingroup$ @bobble "nothing on meta has consensus" Exactly. My suggestion would be to remove closing based on opinion what contents should be, but only based on breaking clearly predefined rules. Essentially, like good old forums in the 90s handled things way better. I am aware though that SE is meant to be bad when it comes to Q/A and will stay that way, since its only purpose is to profit based on community-sponsored SEO. $\endgroup$
    – xamid
    Commented Mar 14 at 4:55
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Here's my 2 cents:

[When I see such answers:] Is it appropriate to

  • post a comment noting that the question is currently off-topic, and request that they refrain from answering such puzzles in the future?

IMO this is a good idea if the answer is on a question that appears to not have a fully defined scope. It could serve as a helpful reminder in some cases to check next time before answering.

(This has actually happened to me before, although I guess the difference was in that case that the question was outright just a math problem, instead of there being some chance of it actually being a puzzle.)

  • post a comment noting that the question is currently off-topic, and request that they delete the answer until the puzzle is edited?

I doubt that requesting that they delete the answer would be a very good idea, mainly because the OP could have already accepted the answer, and then it would be a matter of does the answerer have enough reputation to delete their answer. (which - not including mods - I think only users with either >10K or >20K have the ability to delete accepted answers) If they don't, then they would have to flag for moderator attention for it to be deleted.

  • downvote the answer (accompanied by one of the above comments)?

Yeah, definitely. Isn't that what downvotes are for?

  • flag the answer as Very Low Quality or for moderator intervention?

IMO this should only be done if the answer itself is low quality and/or would need moderator intervention.


However, this is just my opinion based on my experience participating on Stack Exchange for the past year, and so I would like to hear what other people would have to say about this.

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What should I, as a non-diamond community moderator, do when I see such answers? Is it appropriate to: ...

You are essentially asking how you can exercise more authority than the system has granted you. There is no rule against answering a question that hasn't been closed yet so the first two options you list are inappropriate. The second two are an abuse of tools that exist for other purposes and are very inappropriate.

What actions are appropriate to take when someone posts an answer to an underspecified formation-of-numbers puzzle?

Vote to close the question, leave any answers alone, and be patient.

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