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Can I ask questions that serve as puzzles? I.e. I already know the answers but post the questions anyway to see if other people can solve the puzzles?

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    $\begingroup$ If you already know the answer, what's the point in asking? $\endgroup$ – T_P Nov 22 '10 at 4:51
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    $\begingroup$ Well, like I already stated, to see if other people can solve the puzzle. Isn't that what giving puzzle always is? $\endgroup$ – Lukman Nov 22 '10 at 5:43
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    $\begingroup$ Why on earth would you want to waste people's time like that? $\endgroup$ – T_P Nov 22 '10 at 6:17
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    $\begingroup$ Why on earth are you dismissing puzzle in math SE as wasting people time? Aren't there any math-loving people that are enthralled by having puzzles to solve? I, for one, love solving math puzzles. Unless of course if puzzle is off-topic here, then please say so. Don't simply dismiss puzzle as a waste of time. $\endgroup$ – Lukman Nov 22 '10 at 6:27
  • $\begingroup$ @T_P See meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/4232/… $\endgroup$ – Lone Learner May 17 '12 at 6:12
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I don't see any problem in principle with posting puzzles as questions, assuming that they're being asked because the poster is genuinely interested in the answers, and that the post makes it clear that it is posted as a puzzle (or at least makes it clear that the poster already knows an answer and would like to see other solutions).

There have been a number of questions along the lines of "I know a proof of X, but I would like to see some others." That isn't quite the same, but is closely related, and these have often gone over well.

If someone doesn't want to answer a question that the poster already has an answer to, then as long as the question is up front about the fact that it is posted as a puzzle, it will be easy to ignore.

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I have changed my mind on this issue. In light of the greater number of off-topic and otherwise poorly-asked questions on the site these days, I would like to advocate a stricter policy with regard to questions that do not fit the SE model: in particular, questions where the OP already knows the answer. Posting a puzzle you don't know the solution to is fine, but if you are posting a puzzle you know the solution to, you are more or less just sharing the puzzle, and math.SE is not for sharing puzzles - there are plenty of other ways to do this (blogs, Facebook, etc.).

There may be good ways to ask a puzzle question. For example, if the actual question is "what kind of math is this? How does it generalize?" or "what other solutions are possible?" or something like that, that would be fine. The key is that the OP does not know the answer to these questions.

Here is one reason I don't think puzzles are a good fit for math.SE: how do you tag a puzzle? If your tags are too specific, you may give away a hint for the puzzle. The asking of a puzzle hinges on the answerers not having all of the information that the OP has, which I think fundamentally goes against the spirit of the SE enterprise. (Again, a modified question like the ones I suggest above would be more than fine.)

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    $\begingroup$ +1, I strongly agree with that line of thought. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Apr 22 '11 at 20:47
  • $\begingroup$ Although I recognize the logic of your last paragraph, I wonder how fundamental "answerers not having all of the information" is to the spirit of the enterprise. Is not learning and understanding more fundamental? Asking the same question to new people is an opportunity to see the problem in an unexpected way. The answers to this old puzzle and the comments that ensued are a fine example of this. Everybody gained — even those (like me) who may have been familiar with both answers had an opportunity to learn. $\endgroup$ – Eric Nitardy Apr 23 '11 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Eric: if you intend to learn from asking a puzzle, you should make that intention explicit in one of the ways I suggested or some other way. For me everything hinges on the actual sentence with a question mark in the question. It should not be the sentence in the puzzle unless you actually don't know how to solve it. $\endgroup$ – Qiaochu Yuan Apr 23 '11 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ I think the catch is, as you mentioned, there are many (math) puzzles that are not presented correctly/completely, and/or the original presenter has a specific answer in mind. I think these kind of puzzles cannot be considered as a math problem. On the other hand, taking a look at Martin Gardner's books and many others one can easily find interesting math problems presented fabulously as a puzzles. $\endgroup$ – Keivan May 16 '12 at 22:42
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If people are going to ask math puzzle questions, I'd appreciate it if they tagged them as "puzzle". (And if experienced users would add that tag to others posts when appropriate.) It would be one of my ignored tags, but I have no objection to other people enjoying them.

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  • $\begingroup$ [puzzle] is a meta-tag, in the StackOverflow parlance. Objective (computable from the posting) metatags are useful and more are needed in math.SE. However, this need is in opposition to the "death of metatags" idea from SO (and even there it was controversial and may or may not be helpful). I think it would help this site to attain clarity on whether or not use of non-subject tags is a good practice. Already there are some metatags like [homework] in common use, and a developing practice of metatags inside subject tags to escape any "death-of-metatag" matters. It should be done openly. $\endgroup$ – T.. Nov 24 '10 at 16:26
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You can do whatever you want (within reason), but there are plenty of users whose first instinct will be to Google the puzzle and post a link to a solution online. If you are going to do this, please clarify that you do not want people to just post links to solutions.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, perhaps it depends upon what we mean by "puzzle". If it means a standard sort of problem or brain-teaser, then yes, this is probably going to happen. But I think the OP might mean "challenge problems", i.e., things that he has solved and is now posing to others (think Pierre de Fermat for very exalted examples of this). Either way, if they're mathy enough I can't see a reason to exclude them on a general purpose math site. But I think they should be clearly labeled -- I for instance don't really want to answer questions that the OP already knows how to do. $\endgroup$ – Pete L. Clark Nov 22 '10 at 21:13
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    $\begingroup$ I have posted a couple before I saw this thread. Both of them I wouldn't have known how to find a solution with Google, neither one received a simple link-(though one got a link to American Math Monthly from 78/79) and both got several upvotes. On the other hand, I would like to avoid getting buried in "chestnuts". There's a reason this is a comment and not an answer... $\endgroup$ – Ross Millikan Apr 11 '11 at 4:01

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