I came across this question recently. This guy was literally asking what is $1+1$. I knew this was a joke question so I returned the joke by answering $42^{0}+42^{0}$. I thought that this is not harmful for the site (the question is) as the answer is correct. But, I received lots of downvotes for this. Am I doing something wrong?
EDIT: The question was deleted.

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    $\begingroup$ I think this question, on meta, is in fact a good question to ask: "am I doing something wrong"? The answer may well be "yes, you are", but that's not a reason to downvote the meta question. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Jan 20 '15 at 16:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Fundamental,Thank you for understanding my perspective. I asked this question so others including me don't make the same mistake again. I see where I was wrong. $\endgroup$ – AvZ Jan 20 '15 at 16:20
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    $\begingroup$ I might have downvoted that, had I seen it, because you were encouraging the OP. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Andrews Jan 21 '15 at 0:22
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    $\begingroup$ Often, I feel that I am one of the few people here who knows how to smile and/or laugh. I found your answer suitably witty, and would have upvoted it and then flagged the question as spam (which doesn't care about votes on answers). $\endgroup$ – user1729 Jan 21 '15 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729 Then you are one of the many people here who don't know how to use spam flags. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Jan 21 '15 at 13:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Fundamental I am comfortable with that. $\endgroup$ – user1729 Jan 21 '15 at 13:57
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    $\begingroup$ You should have said that it the comments ... :) $\endgroup$ – Sawarnik Jan 23 '15 at 16:13
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    $\begingroup$ A better answer to the original question might have referred to Russell, Whitehead, Principia Mathematicae where on page a-few-hundred they show precisely this result and call it "a sometimes useful result". $\endgroup$ – Hagen von Eitzen Jan 26 '15 at 10:27
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729 Flagging as spam is certainly not the proper response, as spam flags are special. To quote meta: "A post should be marked as spam ONLY when it contains an unsolicited advertisement." Notable reasons are: 1) spam flags supply data for the spam filter (so flagging other things messes with training the system), 2) if six users flag something as spam, it gives a $-100$ rep penalty to the poster, and 3) A spam flag adds a (non-reputation changing) downvote. $\endgroup$ – apnorton Jan 28 '15 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ Furthermore, using spam flags for posts that aren't actually spam is considered abuse of the site. $\endgroup$ – apnorton Jan 28 '15 at 18:38
  • $\begingroup$ @user1729 I laugh and smile a lot. But I don't come to MathStackexchange for jokes. $\endgroup$ – Colin McLarty Feb 2 '15 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ Personally, I wouldn't have put it as an answer, but a comment. It would fit much better that way. $\endgroup$ – Simply Beautiful Art Jan 2 '17 at 18:31

Please do not post joke answers in response to joke questions. My reasoning has three parts (the first two are SE specific and are linked, while the other is common internet protocol):

Joke Questions are not on-topic for the site.

Joke questions do not add anything to the site. Thus, they should be deleted:

What are the criteria for deletion?

For questions, a post that no longer adds anything to the site should be deleted. Basically, this includes most closed questions that cannot be improved and reopened. However, it may be beneficial to keep duplicates to aid future users in finding the canonical question.

From SE FAQ "How Does Deletion Work?"

Posting answers makes it harder to delete the question

If a joke question is closed with no answers, a negative score allows it to be autodeleted. If they're answered, the requirements for autodeletion are more stringent.

Since we want joke questions to be closed and deleted, making it harder to delete them is an unhelpful course of action. Thus, answering "joke questions" is unhelpful, unless the answer adds so much to the post that it outweighs the "badness" of the question.

Don't feed the troll

All "joke questions" can also be considered "trolling" questions. Common (internet) sense says "don't feed the troll"--if you respond (seriously or not), they will continue to ask joke questions. Since joke questions don't add to the site, we don't want to encourage their creators to write more.

If you absolutely must...

If you physically cannot restrain yourself from posting a joke in response to a joke question, post it as a comment. Joke comments are temporary post-it notes, don't make it harder to delete a question. Thus, they're not as harmful as joke answers.


Sometimes, joke answers can be helpful. Humor is a powerful communication tool, and some of the best answers I've seen on the site contain a large dose of appropriate sarcasm. (For instance, several answers that are upvoted for containing $42$ fit this category.) However, joke answers that don't help actually answer the question aren't a good fit for the site.

  • $\begingroup$ This was the answer I was looking for. $\endgroup$ – AvZ Jan 20 '15 at 16:59
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    $\begingroup$ This was not the answer you were looking for. $\endgroup$ – Mateen Ulhaq Jan 26 '15 at 2:19
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    $\begingroup$ Look sir, answers! $\endgroup$ – Hayden Jan 29 '15 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ Hahaha... If I absolutely must... $\endgroup$ – Simply Beautiful Art Jan 2 '17 at 18:34

The purpose of the site is to create a pool of actual questions about mathematics and actual answers.

Joke questions contribute nothing to that pool, just noise, that other people who might be truly interested in the question "How to prove mathematically that $1+1=2$?" (a question that has been asked several times, some of which it was very well received).

Posting a joke answer somehow creates the illusion that posting a joke question is something that will receive an answer. This is not 4chan, or some cesspool of internet nonsense, where you can mildly troll around and everything will be fine. Many users here are academics, or trying to be. I, for example, encourage my colleagues to use this site, for many reasons. I do not, however, encourage anyone to visit 4chan (or more particularly, /b/).

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    $\begingroup$ To "create a pool of actual questions about mathematics and actual answers" is one purported purpose of this site but not the only purpose. Another is to provide a forum for discussion. I find these two objectives to be strongly at odds and, personally, I find it to be much more valuable as a discussion than as a forum. In this context, a "joke" answer seems much less offensive. $\endgroup$ – Mark McClure Jan 20 '15 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ No, not quite for "a discussion". Using the site for sharing new ideas is not a good fit, nor is using the site for sharing new papers or results. It's not a good use of the site to just "throw some vague question out there". Not to mention that joke questions and joke answers are not in any way positive additions for any discussion on mathematics. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jan 20 '15 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ Of course, the question was deleted and correctly so. $\endgroup$ – Mark McClure Jan 20 '15 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ Let me add that personally, I view the site as a place for people to ask questions and receive answers. But this is codependent with the site being a repository of questions and answers. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jan 20 '15 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ Where you view the two objectives as "codependent", I view them as strongly at odds. One simple example is that, often, a question is closed as a duplicate - sometimes, it's an exact duplicate but sometimes not. In either case the OP is deprived of the interactivity inherit in a new discussion. The tension between these two objectives is real and something I've considered bringing up on meta before. $\endgroup$ – Mark McClure Jan 20 '15 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ You do realize that the answer was valid. I have see on multiple occasions that similar answers are well received (even those including the $42$ reference to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). The only difference, however, was that those answers were on equally well received questions. $\endgroup$ – AvZ Jan 20 '15 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark: It seems to me that we are at an impasse. Feel free to post an answer of your own. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jan 20 '15 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ @AvZ: No. The answer you originally posted was "Easy. Clearly the answer is $42$". This is NOT a valid answer, and if you think that this is a valid answer then you should perhaps revisit the definitions of "valid" and "answer". You then changed it to $42^0+42^0$, which is circular and answers nothing. Even if the question wasn't a joke, your answer still answers nothing about it and explains nothing. If you have any examples of answers that are well-received and said "Oh, of course that the answer is $42$", I'd like to see one. Please provide a few links to these multiple occasions. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jan 20 '15 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila, Firstly, I changed the answer. Secondly, I don't know of an exactly same answer, but yes, there have been $42$ references in lots of stack exchange sites. $\endgroup$ – AvZ Jan 20 '15 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ @AvZ: No, this is again not an answer. This is not Yahoo! Answers either. An answer, a useful answer, to an honest question as for what is $1+1$, should include at least some discussion about what is $1$ and what is $+$, and how in different context we may interpret things differently. The fact that the question was a joke/troll/spam/whatever means that you shouldn't answer it in the first place, not that you should try to post the "best joking answer" that you can think of, or something like that. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jan 20 '15 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ @AvZ: Yes, adding jokes is fine, as long as there is a reasonable answer for these jokes to be added to. As for the other answer, I agree it wasn't very good either. I wasn't worried since I knew the post will be deleted shortly after. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jan 20 '15 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with the sentiment, but alas I flagged this answer as not an answer and it was declined with the reason "Considering the question, this is very much an answer". $\endgroup$ – Git Gud Jan 20 '15 at 23:11
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    $\begingroup$ @MarkMcClure: The "duplicate" issue is interesting. Since perhaps a couple of years ago, and certainly by now, a substantial fraction of the new questions, perhaps a majority, consists of duplicates or near duplicates. Some are closed as duplicates, but most are not. Although I do vote to close exact duplicates when there are already high quality answers, I think that much of the time not closing is a good thing. $\endgroup$ – André Nicolas Jan 21 '15 at 1:17
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    $\begingroup$ @André: I agree. When in doubt I don’t vote to close, though I will give a cross-reference in the comments. And when I do vote to close something as a duplicate, I frequently point to an earlier duplicate that was in turn closed with a pointer to a yet earlier question, in order to give the OP easy access to more answers. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Jan 23 '15 at 20:37
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    $\begingroup$ Sometimes questions are marked as duplicates even when the prior answers were wholly unsatisfactory, so, at least in my opinion it causes harm to the SE goal when the no duplicates policy is too strictly enforced. $\endgroup$ – user507974 Jan 25 '15 at 10:49

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