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This isn't the usual issue about questions from contest competitions being posted here for assistance, but rather about the use of Math.SE as a venue for hosting a "contest" using a future bounty as prize.

This recent Question asks for participation according to rules (the post lists seven of them) that restrict the normal conduct of the Community, and I voted to close it on that account.

By normal conduct I mean such things as posting Answers as soon as one wishes, making Comments and Editing the Question for improved clarity, etc.

While it is possible that some Readers may enjoy participating in such a competition, accomodating the wishes of the contest "judge" seems to mean abandoning the Community guidelines for participation in creating useful content.

The Comment I left on the post itself is this:

To the extent that this OP wishes to impose indicated conditions on answering a Question, it is incompatible with the Community rules for answering. Of course hiding the problem statement, with the presumption that one will not even read the problem until conditions are agreed to, smacks of drive-by EULA tactics.

I considered flagging for Moderation, but perhaps it is better to have Meta discussion and vote on this post accordingly. To that end I'm proposing that "contests" on Math.SE should not impose any restrictions beyond the Community guidelines (as they may be revised and updated).

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    $\begingroup$ This seems (to some extent) related: meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/13855/… $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Oct 23 '14 at 16:47
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    $\begingroup$ The only problem I see with this is in the seemingly arbitrary start time that the OP has set. Otherwise, I do not understand all the fuss. People will add their solutions, others may upvote, a bounty will be given. Sounds pretty blase to me. $\endgroup$ – Ron Gordon Oct 23 '14 at 18:03
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    $\begingroup$ But if you run a contest on MSE, the moderators will lock it until the contest end, thus nullifying all possible entries! "MSE Contest: The Paradox" $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Oct 23 '14 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ Related meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/10708/competitions-on-mse $\endgroup$ – quid Oct 23 '14 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ Current status: question was closed, then reopened, now has 4 votes to close again. Do I hear a fifth? $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Oct 23 '14 at 22:31
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    $\begingroup$ That question should be locked before the bounty start until we have a consensus whether this sort of question is allowed. $\endgroup$ – achille hui Oct 24 '14 at 10:50
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    $\begingroup$ What is wrong in running a contest here? As far as I knew, I didn't break any rules here. In my OP, I stated: "Before we start the contest, here are the rules of my little contest that you should obey as a contestant (the one who posts an answer to this OP during contest period)". If there is a user who is not interested to participate in my contest but she/he wants to answer it, then she/he just answers it as usual (ignore the rules). I never forbid any users here to answer that OP, though (ㆆ_ㆆ) $\endgroup$ – Anastasiya-Romanova 秀 Oct 24 '14 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ Why in the heck did my question put on hold as off-topic (closed twice) meanwhile this competition OP not? Even it's allowed. It seems there is a double standard here. Can someone here explain to me? $$$$ (≖_≖ ")a $\endgroup$ – Anastasiya-Romanova 秀 Oct 24 '14 at 16:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Anastasiya-Romanova: I assume you are motivated in stating your contest rules by a desire to have a fair competition, and that it seems reasonable to you to award a bounty based on upvotes received by various Answers that obey those rules. However if you do impose these rules, it hardly seems that they can ignored by some and obeyed by others, and these rules substantially conflict with the Community guidelines. Consider for example the notion that editing is not allowed. Editing is a primary way that Answers are improved here, and the editing of my Answers by other members is allowed. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Oct 24 '14 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ Dear Mr. @hardmath, editing is not allowed only for the contestant during contest period. Feel free if they want to edit during contest period, but the consequence they are not part of the contest anymore. They can still edit their answers after the contest over. Now, could you please tell me what kind of explicit Community guidelines I break in this OP? Apparently, this is not the first time user here hold a contest. Please, read my comment above your comment. Why there is a double standard here? $\endgroup$ – Anastasiya-Romanova 秀 Oct 24 '14 at 17:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Anastasiya-Romanova: I listed below your proposed restrictions on answering, editing, and collaboration as in my opinion contrary to Community guidelines. If you wish to award a bounty on the best Answer to an integration problem, that is of course perfectly normal and unobjectionable. Covering the difference by "ignoring the rules" seems to me a dodge. If you are willing to have your rules ignored, why propose them? As remarked below, if you even pare back your rules in a way that matches the other "competition", this would greatly improve your post. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Oct 24 '14 at 18:03
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe create a tag "contest" or "live contest". Or announce first (maybe on META), and then hold the contest in a chat room? And close the room after the after the contest is over? $\endgroup$ – The Artist Oct 24 '14 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Anastasiya-Romanova I don't think anyone has pointed out that the question, even with the contest stuff removed, is just a problem statement without context or motivation, and so it is off-topic for a different reason unrelated to the "contest". $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Oct 24 '14 at 22:24
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    $\begingroup$ In general, one underlying factor with this question is that the "integration" tag in general seems to attract a lot of poorly-written questions: apparently random integration problems without motivation or context. Perhaps is isn't surprising that eventually someone immediately marked one of these problems as a contest. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Oct 24 '14 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ I thought this had been discussed before, but I just found the link: meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/10708/competitions-on-mse $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Oct 24 '14 at 22:59
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I, personally, would have no problem if a questioner said something like:

To make this a little more interesting, I'll award a bounty in two weeks to the person who can give a full solution using the fewest substitutions for this integral. (if it was an integral problem--just an example.)

As phrased, that's a contest. However, it's a non-intrusive contest; that is, it doesn't substantially affect the question.

As soon as you set up a several hundred character introduction delineating rules about what answers are/are not acceptable, the contest becomes intrusive to the question, and (I think) should not be allowed. The linked question falls in this category.

tl;dr: Minor "contest-like" clauses in a problem are fine (IMHO), but the question should be a valid question on its own (without the contest-like nature).

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    $\begingroup$ For comparison, Martin's link above to a previous Meta thread seems to correspond to this "contest" Question. The detailed rules set out there do not IMHO conflict with normal Community guidelines. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Oct 24 '14 at 0:35
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    $\begingroup$ I think there is a strong amount of consensus around the notion that if a particular contest-like Question were to be allowed, it should pass muster on the merits of the question posed, and so I've marked this as Accepted. Note that a fair amount of consensus seems to exist around "promissory bounties", although that Question describes an application to "a long post" that would entail "a large effort", not the promotion of competition. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Oct 29 '14 at 16:04
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This site, and an SE site in general, is for actual questions people really have or at least might have, not contests. (There are some exceptions like Code Golf, but this site is not one of them.)

There should be no contests at all, to have contest that even interfere with the normal workings of the site is not acceptable. I would vote to close instantly.

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  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like someone needs to head over to Area 51 and make a proposal. $\endgroup$ – paqogomez Oct 28 '14 at 16:37
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    $\begingroup$ @paqogomez Possibly. However, SE is AFAIK not so keen on this types of sites. Also, there is an active contest-math community at artofproblemsolving.com $\endgroup$ – quid Oct 28 '14 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ Puzzling is a SE site I'm not super enthusiastic about. $\endgroup$ – user285523 Nov 8 '15 at 5:00
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In a sense every question on the site is a contest - at least that is how the rewards work, to try to motivate users to produce the best answer. There is general encouragement to work together with others (through comments and edits) and subsequent answers which are essentially the same as previously published answers get little credit (I've messed up on that front more than once, eventually realising that I've replicated someone else's work).

One alternative would be to have something like a "challenge" tag where some of the normal rules can be suspended ("contest" is already used for other things). After all there is a long history of mathematicians throwing down challenges for each other (e.g. the solution of the cubic) - and perhaps (this would be a major change) to allow an immediate bounty on a challenge question.

I'm not wholly convinced, but couldn't immediately banish the idea.

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    $\begingroup$ There is indeed a history of mathematicians challenging each other, but I feel strongly that is not the purpose of this site. If the asker is already able to solve the problem, then it isn't a question in any genuine sense. Moreover, well-motivated new questions are hard to come by, but things I know already are trivial to come by. I could spend all day writing challenge problems, and so could dozens of other users - that cannot be what we are here for. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Oct 24 '14 at 22:11
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlMummert There is some reward for answering your own question and some people ask questions in search of better answers, and that is a valid thing to do. There are lots of questions here which are abstract mathematical duplicates, but where the underlying question reflects a different misunderstanding. There may be an issue between helping the person and answering the question. I do agree that this is not a challenge site, and becoming so would change it fundamentally. Neither does it function quite like the "polymath" idea of collaborative problem solving. $\endgroup$ – Mark Bennet Oct 24 '14 at 22:17
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As Instigator of the other competition mentioned:

**Ended Competition:** What is the shortest proof of $\exists x \forall y (D(x) \to D(y)) $?

and the rules I proposed at: Competitions on MSE

(2nd answer)

and comparing my competition with Anastasiya's Integral Contest

I think we should get some general rules on competions

Here a list of my musings:

(I made it a community wiki so add ideas and issues that i overlooked )

Better answers

  • I think competitions are to find better answers and therefore the question needs to contain an answer to the question, as example of the kind of answer you are looking for, and how the answer should be given

    Anastasiya's question doesn't contain one.

  • limitations on the number of answers a contestant can give is i think incompatable with this, if after some more thinking somebody comes with a better answer, she should be allowed to post it.

Limitations an answers

  • It is reasonable to have rules to which the answer apply but I don't think wait with answering is one of them.

  • the rules to what is a competetive answer should be quite extensive, they are the measure against which the answers are compared. In my case i prescribed an answer with lots of regulations involved

  • for practical reasons the competition can only run for a limited time, but that should be the only time limitation, and this limitation should be set to the same time as valid bounty, but answers can be given before the bounty is set.

Discqualifying contestents

  • not a good idea , you may disqualify answers because they are not valid competative answers,(within the rules stated in the question) but that should be the only limitation

Awarding the bounty

  • I think the instigater should give clear and independent rules as to which answer gets the prize. just the answer that gets the most upvotes is not independent enough. you need to be more precise. (shortest amnd earliest posted , other objective rules)

The title of the question

  • the question title should also be just an normal question, that it is an competition should not a major part of the question, the competition element should be no more that a nice extra. the question should not be intrusive.

in Anastasiya's case the question could be something like " [competition]: better proof of....." or " [competition]: proof of....."

The question itself

  • The question should be hard , we are a serious mathematics site.

competitions that not (or cannot) adhere to these rules should be discouraged.

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    $\begingroup$ I think that rules of this sort just make a bad situation worse, by encouraging people to argue about whether the rules were followed. It would be simpler just to discourage contests entirely. Which is reasonable because this site really isn't set up for contests - they have a very different nature than the collaborative nature we are looking for here. Moreover, anyone with half a desire to could start up a new competition every day, just by using interesting problems from textbooks. Contest questions are too easy to write in that sense. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Oct 25 '14 at 12:42
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    $\begingroup$ The site is of course set up for offering and awarding bounties, and it seems fair to view the bounty system as having evolved with the SE communities over time. Many features, such as a delay period before a bounty can be offered, may seem frustrating to one who views it as a means to running a contest, but serve a useful purpose in encouraging high quality content. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Oct 25 '14 at 13:17
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I don't see any harm in questions of this type and I'm honestly mystified as to why it was closed. The contest question being posed is mathematical and unambiguous; it is not likely to lead to any prolonged debate or discussion. Looking at the help center I don't see any rule which indicates that it is actually off topic.

There are some "contest conditions" in the question, but they aren't legally binding. The only way the OP has to enforce these conditions is by not awarding the bounty. Since stack exchange rep doesn't have any meaning in real life I don't see how this is a problem.

I want to point out that contest questions of this type aren't really different than the host of extremely difficult indefinite integral problems with bounties that already can be found on the site. This one just has an objective rule for how the bounty is awarded.

I would be interested in hearing any input on actual harm this type of "contest question" can have on the site. I get the impression that some on topic questions are closed or down voted because there is some unstated rule that the users on this site aren't supposed to have fun.

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    $\begingroup$ The issue is not whether solving an integral is on-topic, although that mathematical problem is "hidden", nor whether the rules are "legally binding". The "contest rules" forbid posting Answers at this time, forbid editing of Answers, and forbid collaboration, all of which is against Community guidelines. If you are suggesting the integral problem would be fine to post with a bounty and without these restrictions, maybe that is the way to approach this particular case. $\endgroup$ – hardmath Oct 24 '14 at 12:11
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    $\begingroup$ I see where you are coming from. To me the rules are just window dressing, they are meaningless anything because there is no force behind them (unlike the case with a EULA). If people wish to pretend they matter so that they can have some fun in a contest I'm happy to let them do so. I would be ok with the question with or without the restrictions you refer to. $\endgroup$ – Spencer Oct 24 '14 at 21:47
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    $\begingroup$ I mentioned the the question was on topic because it is currently on hold for being "off-topic". I see this quite a lot on questions which are politically unpopular even though the conform to the rules of the site (though you maintain the this particular one doesn't conform to those rules). I suffer severe cognitive dissonance when I see a question about mathematics put on hold because "This question is not about mathematics, within the scope defined in the help center." I personally consider holds like this an abuse of the system. $\endgroup$ – Spencer Oct 24 '14 at 21:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Spencer: the difficulty is that the close dialog box has very limited options available. But that is out of our control. So users have to pay more attention to the comments, and less attention to the one-sentence summary in the "this question is on hold" box. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Oct 24 '14 at 22:13
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlMummert: I'm familiar with this fact, but still disagree with putting a question on hold for a reason not listed in the options. The current situations involves a set of secret rules, some of which are political, that are inconsistently applied. For instance in this case we are told in the comments "This question appears to be off-topic because m.se is not for running contests" in spite of the fact that contests have been held on m.se before. Maybe the commenter doesn't address what makes this contest different because he isn't aware of the other one? $\endgroup$ – Spencer Oct 24 '14 at 22:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Spencer: do you know for certain that the people who said m.SE is not for contests didn't downvote and/or vote to close the previous one? Perhaps they are being consistent with themselves. I do agree it would be better to have more "official" closing options, but that seems to be beyond what we can achieve. I also agree that many things are inconsistently applied - which is unfortunate, but the site is too large and decentralized to us to hope for much improvement. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Oct 24 '14 at 22:49
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlMummert You're right, they may have voted to close the other contest as well. What I had in mind was that they may not even have seen the old contest. The decentralized nature of the site has led to many subcultures, such as users that are very interested in seeing the evaluation of difficult definite integrals. I personally see this as a positive growth for the site. Having a large number of detailed rules discourages these sub communities from forming because each one has different needs and when they clash confusion occurs. --- $\endgroup$ – Spencer Oct 24 '14 at 23:12
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    $\begingroup$ --- I think the solution is to not have an overabundance of rules and just stick to a few essential ones. Hence why I think that questions should only be put on hold if they don't meet the criteria described in the help center. This has been a fruitful conversation for me Carl thanks for your input. $\endgroup$ – Spencer Oct 24 '14 at 23:14
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    $\begingroup$ "For instance in this case we are told in the comments "This question appears to be off-topic because m.se is not for running contests" in spite of the fact that contests have been held on m.se before. Maybe the commenter doesn't address what makes this contest different because he isn't aware of the other one?" That's right, I wasn't aware of the other one. If I had seen it, and if it was anything like the one we're discussing now, I would have voted to close it, and I would have left the same comment. But I gather from what others are writing that the other contest is not like this one. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Oct 25 '14 at 3:48

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