I am referring to this question, and my answer to it.

The question asks for solutions to a particular equation, and not for any proof (why they work, how many exist, etc.). It also does not mention what kind of approach is to be used. It just asks for solutions.

I have almost no knowledge in solving such questions (except for the fact that I can comprehend the question). The first thing that struck me when I read it was the obvious solution I gave. I don't know whether any other solution exists, but I just thought it would be best to let them know of the solution (since no one else seemed to have known it).

I agree my answer is not complete, and may or may not be helpful to the OP. Should I have posted my answer in the comments?

As an additional note, on beta sites like Puzzling and Worldbuilding, even the most incomplete answers (often just one-liners) are not rejected in such a manner. People do comment on them, and sometimes upvote. Others often elaborate these answers.


Here is my answer and the comments on it.

Referred answer

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @quid Okay, so I have included a snapshot in the question. I can undelete the answer, but I haven't done it yet. $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2015 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. I think the current setup is essentially optimal. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Feb 9, 2015 at 18:17

2 Answers 2


tl;dr: Your answer should have been a comment.

StackExchange is a network of Q&A sites dedicated to matching high-quality answers to high-quality questions. The problem with your answer is that it was not high quality, not that it was really short. We are perfectly accepting of informative short answers.

The problem with your answer is two-fold: First, it provides a solution to the equation, rather than solving the equation. To "solve" an equation means to find its solution set--all possible values that satisfy the equation's constraints. Hence, it isn't a complete answer, per se.

Secondly, the solution that you provided is trivial. Having that solution provides no insight on how other solutions may be derived, and it can be ascertained immediately. The combination of these two problems would be enough to make me downvote and flag as not an answer. (I didn't, though, since I saw the answer only after it was deleted.)

The triviality of the answer also ties in to the nature of the problem: Diophantine equations are hard to solve; anyone finding a solution to such a problem would have already seen the trivial solution and ignored it. Your answer to this question is equivalent to answering $x=1$ to "What are the solutions to $x^n = 1$?"--it's true, but not useful.

You mention that such answers are acceptable on other sites; for example, Puzzling or World Building. On both World Building and Puzzling, the topics are less structured and there is more of an "anything goes" approach to answers. It can be considered a "good answer" to find loopholes in the question and provide answers that aren't what the OP wanted/was expecting. Here, we do our best to determine what the OP wants and to supply it. If something is unclear or seems "too easy" to require a question, we clarify in comments.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @amWhy You raise a good point--I didn't even realize the extent to which I used boldface (I'm looking back over my posts now). :) I use boldface because it is tempting to skim and/or skip long posts--by emboldening the key points I wish to make, I believe that someone could ascertain the general ideas I wish to convey without needing to read the whole post. (Of course, I prefer it when people do read what I write!) However, I see that it could be distracting and/or perceived as hostile--I'll try to "tone it down" moving forward. $\endgroup$
    – apnorton
    Feb 12, 2015 at 23:06
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the thoughtful consideration (and not getting defensive: Reading over my comment: I think I could have said what I said using kinder words!) $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Feb 12, 2015 at 23:19

Your answer is definitely better as a comment; this is less a policy per-se than perhaps a thing of mathematical understanding. The question of:

Solve in the positive integers...

would generally mean "find every solution". I've certainly encountered questions of the form "Are there solutions to this equations?" or "Aside from these solutions I found, are there others?" to which your answer would be more acceptable. The issue with posting such things as answers is that it can give the false impression that the question has been fully answered, while the questioner, even they appreciate your effort, is likely looking for a more substantial proof. You can help the OP and other answerers just as much with a comment, without the costing the question the attention it needs.

Generally, for this reason, non-complete answers are frowned upon; the only exceptions I've seen well-received are substantial answers (i.e. larger than most things you see on the site and definitely too long for a comment) which make progress on a problem which appears to be intractable (example) - but I'd be wary about posting such things, because even they have similar issues.


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