# I found 3 questions asking about an ongoing contest.

The following 3 questions were asked and are part of an ongoing contest: https://iymc.info/data/Pre-Final-Round-Problems-2018-x3285s7f2.pdf

I did not realize this yesterday, but upon going through the Pre-Final round problems, I discovered a user posting the problems here, violating their policy: "It is not allowed to work in groups on the problems. Help or assistance from teachers, friends, family, or the internet is prohibited. Cheating will result in immediate disqualification!"

I have reported this to both the relevant authorities and flagged for moderator intervention. One of them is unanswered, another has two wrong hints that can easily be corrected while the last is shown to be unsolved. I would like to request fellow users to not answer the questions till after 5th of November, 2018; the last day of submission. Thank you!

Edit 1)

I have just received a response from the organizers of the event:

"Thank you for your message and the information. This is unacceptable behavior, thank you for reporting this incident - you accomplished a great feat for enabling a fair competition. Please continue helping the IYMC community by reporting these incidents if they continue to emerge. IYMC tries its best to tackle people and behavior that try to sabotage the competition - the help of our community is essential for that."

The very fact that they managed to reply to the complaint in 2 hours is a commendable feat and their dedication to keep the competition as fair as possible is amazing.

Edit 2)

As a fellow user in the comments pointed out, another question is also from the same competition:

I have repeated my previous actions and would like to sincerely thank user @md2perpe for pointing it out as I had not noticed that particular question before.

• Thank you for posting this! I've voted to close the questions that were still open and left comments suggesting answerers to delete their answers. – Arnaud D. Oct 31 '18 at 10:37
• I deleted the three questions for now. – Asaf Karagila Oct 31 '18 at 10:37
• @AsafKaragila That works too :) – Arnaud D. Oct 31 '18 at 10:38
• @Asaf As far as I know, there's another way to deal with ongoing contest questions: lock the question until the deadline. Why did you delete them instead? – GNUSupporter 8964民主女神 地下教會 Oct 31 '18 at 11:27
• @GNUSupporter8964民主女神地下教會: I was in a bit of a rush to leave the house, and deleting is significantly faster. I'll also note that we sometimes delete contests questions as well. In this case it seemed a bit more appropriate too, since at least on some of them there were hints given in the comments too. – Asaf Karagila Oct 31 '18 at 11:30
• We occasionally get posts here at meta, alerting us to an ongoing contest, so we can know what to look out for. It would have been good to get such a warning for this contest, before all these posts showed up. Anyway, my apologies for having helped out on the "relatively many primes" question. – Gerry Myerson Oct 31 '18 at 13:13
• @GNUSupporter8964民主女神地下教會 We have always been hiding the answers (by deleting them) of locked contest question until the contest deadline has passsed. There used to be a mod-only chatroom where we collected links to such questions together with their deadlines. Checking out that room was not always done in timely fashion, so undeletion may have been tardy. But it did help because we didn't need to rely on memory alone. I don't know if the current mod team still uses that room. – Jyrki Lahtonen Oct 31 '18 at 14:59
• They can still use private chats or ask their elder siblings. Worse is when their parents or teachers help them. – Mohammad Zuhair Khan Oct 31 '18 at 17:06
• Calm down all. 1) I'm not sure that suspensions help here. People with throwaway accounts just create new ones (and blocking an IP is slower and should IMHO only be on the cards after several offences). 2) I once got in touch with a contest organizer, apologizing that I was not allowed to disclose the offender's e-mail address and such. They appeased me by telling that We have no trouble whatsoever identifying copycat entrants as such :-) – Jyrki Lahtonen Nov 1 '18 at 10:27
• Another question from this contest: math.stackexchange.com/questions/2980930/… – md2perpe Nov 2 '18 at 7:22
• @астонвіллаолофмэллбэрг: That's one good reason to not answer PSQs, because cheaters are often lazy. – user21820 Nov 2 '18 at 16:35
• @Raptor except that there is no such policy. We only close them temporarily as a courtesy. There is no rule on the books about this. MSE has no obligation to prevent cheating. – The Great Duck Nov 3 '18 at 17:14
• OT: Please don't use MathJax for the digits in things like "has asked 3 questions", "edit 2:", etc. These are not math. Typesetting them as such looks bad. – wchargin Nov 5 '18 at 0:06
• StackOverflow officer @animuson has edited this question, writing "Please do not focus on specific users in meta questions". But it's an important part of this question that it was one specific user posting all three questions from the ongoing contest, as it speaks to a systematic effort by that user to use our website to subvert the contest. I call on animuson to revert to the previous version (as there is no option for ordinary users to rollback these edits). – Gerry Myerson Nov 6 '18 at 22:35
• @animuson except it's a meta question and a report to the community. Changing the wording of the post hardly changes that it is obvious from 3 screenshots which user was posting these problems. The question itself focuses on the user simply by product of saying which questions reference the contest.... – The Great Duck Nov 8 '18 at 23:45

## 2 Answers

While it is indeed despicable if someone takes part in a contest and cheats in this way, I am surprised everyone seems to agree that questions should be closed and accounts should be blocked. But calm down.

When I look at https://math.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic I don't see a regulation that says: don't post contest questions if it is not allowed by the rules of the contest.

If the questions deserve a close on their own merit, or lack of, they should of course be closed. (I did not look at the examples).

If the user's behavior deserves blocking the account, they should be blocked. But given that there are no rules against posting contest questions, on which base do you want to block them --- apart from the feeling they're doing something wrong.

As an additional thought: consider the teacher at a high school hands out an exam about Goethe. To test what the pupils have learned and not what they are able to quickly look up on Wikipedia, Wikipedia lookup is not allowed during the exam. Should Wikipedia be informed up-front and block the page about Goethe?

Should math.SE really police every math contest around world? How do you make sure not to block the wrong questions or users, someone not taking part in the contest, being just curious and not realizing the contest is ongoing? Someone by mere accident asking a question similar to what is needed in the contest.

My suggestion would be to explicitly define contest questions off-topic while the contest is running and, as proposed, block the question until the contest is over, if flagged respectively. A user violating this rule repeatedly can then be blocked/suspended based simply by applying the rules.

• Interesting proposition. Perhaps you should ask this as a separate question on meta? – Mohammad Zuhair Khan Nov 3 '18 at 10:02
• I'm pretty sure that your suggestion is actually the policy that is generally applied. – Arnaud D. Nov 3 '18 at 11:44
• This is in fact the current policy. Plus I'd like to point out that (while it is obviously not the case this time) users can ask an question that choose and it is sometimes easy to by accident post a question that in the future is a contest problem or is currently one without ever seeing the contest. In that situation, banning a user is not only ridiculous but actually kind of off putting. After all, these contest questions aren't so unique that they have a copyright claim on them or took months of development. Anyone could make comparable questions if they tried hard enough. – The Great Duck Nov 3 '18 at 17:11
• Harald, I disagree. We have a very clear policy. We cannot have all the policies described in the Help Center. There's no room there. Discard the notion that policies should be written there, please. META is the place were policies are discussed, formulated, posted, refined and updated. – Jyrki Lahtonen Nov 3 '18 at 19:01
• Didn't know that. But that means the current question should be marked as a duplicate of that policy question. Will flag accordingly. – Harald Nov 3 '18 at 20:28
• @Harald no it should not. It isn't just a policy question. It's a call to deal with these posts and discuss how to proceed. This can also include how we ensure further posts do not appear in the future. – The Great Duck Nov 4 '18 at 1:04
• Despite my support for Mathematics's ongoing contest policy, I don't think that we have to police around the world's math contests. Instead, we'll act passively upon notification of suspected ongoing contest questions. – GNUSupporter 8964民主女神 地下教會 Nov 6 '18 at 9:46
• @JyrkiLahtonen that may be true but the definition of on topic and off topic should be defined in the help center. It is where new users are directed and where most people go to look. It is partially deceptive to list close reasons there and then omit others. This goes into my suggestion that a custom close reason should be added regarding contest questions. Off topic should mean not about math as that is what the text in the reason states. Using it in other ways makes it confusing and sends mixed signals to users. – The Great Duck Nov 8 '18 at 23:51
• @TheGreatDuck Sigh. That is beyond our control. It's been explained iin meta umpteen times that Off-topic -> missing context really only means missing context. Search the meta for the reason. Contest questions mostly are on-topic (but may be lacking in context). – Jyrki Lahtonen Nov 9 '18 at 4:50
• @JyrkiLahtonen lacking context is not the same as being an ongoing contest. A user can add a note saying it is an ongoing contest. The question would still need to be closed. And I'm not talking about off topic -> missing context. I'm talking about off topic -> not about math. Contest questions need to be closed to prevent cheating. Saying we need a close reason that reflects that and takes care of the work of removing the closure when the contest ends shouldn't be considered an unreasonable request. Even if the site can't support expiring closures, another selection would be useful. – The Great Duck Nov 9 '18 at 5:28
• @TheGreatDuck Did you somehow miss the oft repeated fact that if we have a customed close reason, for reasons dictated by the SE software, that reason can only exist under off-topic. Not ideal, granted, but beating a dead horse. – Jyrki Lahtonen Nov 9 '18 at 5:36
• @JyrkiLahtonen Um no, I had not heard that at all, ever. However, I was thinking of something that could be added to the SE site in general since the issue of contests and cheating goes far beyond MSE. However, the odds of that happening I suppose depend on how often the SE infrastructure gets updated. – The Great Duck Nov 9 '18 at 5:51
• @TheGreatDuck Here is a response from SE staff to the latest feature request from Math.SE. – Jyrki Lahtonen Nov 9 '18 at 8:10
• @JyrkiLahtonen once again, I'm proposing that a close reason that automatically expires after some date for contest closure would be useful and that it wouldn't be custom for MSE. It would be network wide. – The Great Duck Nov 9 '18 at 13:32

No we should most certainly not ban a user for posting a contest question unless we have reason to believe they are deliberately and repeatedly attempting to cheat on a contest after being told not to. However, we should have a better medium in place to handle contest questions. In particular I think we need to have a special vote added to close reasons that users can cast. Now if we assume that the contest question is valid and that the user is posting in good faith then we know that the following should be done. This is from previous policy discussion if memory serves right.

1. The question should be closed and all answers barred from viewing aside from original authors.

2. Rep values should not change or be deducted as users should not be punished for being fooled by a contest question.

3. The question should be restored after the end of the contest.

Now considering the case of a user posting $$3$$ questions from the same contest, I would imagine that they know very well what they are doing. That is a special case, and really it is up to the mods and how the user reacts to decide whether or not a ban is necessary. But considering another user posted just one question from the same contest it's safe to say that my suggestion still holds water.

Basically we want a close vote that automatically hides all answers from view (except from mods and original authors) and prevents future answers until some date has passed. I don't know if the close system can be changed to accommodate such a thing but I think it is worth looking into with parent SE to see if it can be added. This would allow puzzle contests on puzzling.se to have the same protection and any other site where contest questions might come in.

Now of course the close would simply expire so then a user would be aware that it's not a punishment. It's just to prevent cheating. If a user isn't intending to cheat and is merely curious I can't see them having any issue in waiting. This is in fact why I say bans should be used leniently because can be given contest questions or obtain them outside of the contest without context and then choose to ask on here out of curiosity. The contest should ban them from the contest, but it's hardly egregious enough to warrant a stack exchange ban.

Some people mentioned as well that answering PSQ is wrong and that should factor into the problem here. However, a problem statement question can be considered good enough on its own when proper tags are given and the content itself is obviously not a homework or something with a natural application. The recreational-math tag tends to come well in showing that. After all, context can mean mathematical context (the definitions and assertions assumed when working the problem) or personal context (the actual events leading to the human being asking the question). I would argue that not all questions need the latter as Math is primarily studied without application in mind. Numerous jokes about this exist including an XKCD comic I believe.

Why do I bring this up? Because we shouldn't be scolding users for answering questions. If anything a user that is able to correctly answer a question that to others might be flawed or confusing or what-have-you shouldn't be punished. After all, while MSE has many uses at it's core level it is for a person doing some kind of Math to either get help with Math or answer a curiosity they had in Math. Punishing someone for attempting to help another user is flat out wrong and unproductive. If people wish to not be involved in the politics of the site and instead answer questions then they should not be punished for choosing to answer things that don't have a nice wrapping to them. I saw several comments here implying that users were wrong for answering them as they were PSQ's but the thing is that just because a question should be closed doesn't mean it cannot be answered or that it shouldn't be. If people just want to go around the site and provide helpful, well thought out, and carefully constructed answers then they shouldn't be punished for that. People serving the role of moderation or close voters determine what is and isn't allowed as a question, whereas people answering questions should only be required to look at what they find interesting and can answer with their abilities.

Some further points to back up my claims here:

6 Note that in this case OP seemed unaware that the question was a problem in a current journal issue. – Gerry Myerson Aug 26 '12 at 0:03

6 We've had analogous issues with problems posted from ongoing competitions (e.g. Project Euler), problems from take-home exams, etc. These too, can be passed along, with the original source being lost. Generally it is difficult if not impossible to ascertain whether the OP knows the source, and speculation about such is usually not constructive. – Bill Dubuque Aug 26 '12 at 18:28

While I have stated that the current policy is that we don't ban people for posting contest questions no different than we don't ban people for posting questions that lack context (usually assumed to be homework), I think the point that people need to understand is that stack exchange assumes the asker is asking in good faith. That is one of the things I've seen stated times. Until it is made absolutely clear that the person is violating a policy on purpose, we assume good faith. Yes, in the case of a person posting 3 contest questions it is clear they are either trying to cheat or were not aware it was an ongoing contest. However, that is a special case. Note that on the flipside we have another user who only posted one question from the same contest. We don't know if that person knew where it originated from. It could have been shared by a friend as an interesting problem. I can speak fro experience that sheets of (old) problems have been passed around in the chats before for days at a time. Now it was clear in that case because the pdf had a date on it. However, it is not hard to fake such a date for starters (just edit the pdf) and we can also assume that a person might miss the date and/or not understand that it was a contest rather than just a sheet to do for leisure.

I'm not at all saying that the user that posted three questions might be punished. However, what I am saying is that we are being very trigger-happy here and immediately jumping for ban. If someone can show there is a precedent of such bans fair enough, but as far as I am aware we do not normally ban for such things.

• I kind of ended up going on a tangent at the end there. Whoops. – The Great Duck Nov 4 '18 at 1:27
• That close vote idea is a really smart one... – Mohammad Zuhair Khan Nov 4 '18 at 1:30
• @Raptor thanks, but there's of course other issues such as users giving conflicting dates for the contest end. I'm sure such things would just be similar to close votes though where the "highest voted date" prevails. – The Great Duck Nov 4 '18 at 1:37
• "Now if we assume that the contest question is valid and that the user is posting in good faith" Well, attempting to cheat on an ongoing contest is prima facie bad faith, in my book. – user7530 Nov 4 '18 at 17:48
• @user7530 1. We cannot know for sure whether or not they are intending to cheat. 2. I meant bad faith in the context of stack exchange whereby a user is intentionally posting to cause trouble. I define "bad faith" to mean "This question isn't being posted because I actually want help or feel this is a useful query, but because I actively want to cause trouble.". However, to be a bit more inclusive posting a contest question again after having several closed as contest questions would also be in bad faith. – The Great Duck Nov 4 '18 at 18:17
• @user7530 I don't include notions of cheating in the context of bad faith, because it harms the competition not stack exchange. Like in the other answer, SE is not harmed by such questions being open any more than wikipedia is harmed by someone using it during a test. We close them out of courtesy, not because their existence damages the site. – The Great Duck Nov 4 '18 at 18:20
• @TheGreatDuck enabling cheating damages the reputation of the site. – Cheerful Parsnip Nov 5 '18 at 3:19
• Re "This isn't YouTube where posting another person's content gets you a copyright ban or something (at least for questions)": posting content which is protected by a third party's copyright is against the Terms of Service (because you don't have the authority to license it under CC-BY-SA), and repeated infringement of the ToS will eventually lead to a ban. – Peter Taylor Nov 5 '18 at 14:01
• @CheerfulParsnip Did I say we should allow cheating? I never said that. I said we can't assume bad faith from the asker just because it comes from a contest. The asker may have no intentions of entering the contest. – The Great Duck Nov 6 '18 at 0:01
• @PeterTaylor My point was that posting a contest question is not in and of itself a violation of copyright. Not only can is it that Math in and of itself cannot be copyrighted, but also most contests lack such copyright claims anyway. Regardless, my point was that we have no grounds to ban purely on the reason of "a person posted a contest question from any contest even in the past". We do not ban because of that. We simply add credit to the question and that's that. – The Great Duck Nov 6 '18 at 0:05
• A claim of copyright is not need, it inherently exists, and without explicit permission, the default is legally that permission does not exist. "Adding credit" doesn't magically make it okay. – Nij Nov 7 '18 at 6:27
• The delete vote on this answer is rather sad. Does someone actually believe it is ethical to censor content on subjective topics when it differs from their personal opinion? – Bill Dubuque Nov 7 '18 at 14:18
• @Nij The police do not come to your house and charge you with copyright violation unless a person says you committed copyright violation and even then it goes to a court and actual law gets involved. If we are going to be removing things that have credit given on the basis of copyright violation then we have a heck of a lot more cleaning up to do. – The Great Duck Nov 8 '18 at 0:06
• We're not prosecuting a crime, we're avoiding liability and disallowing it's commission. Simple as that. // Sites a policy requiring a DMCA form do so because they must respond to a claim in that format, but not to any other. It is absolutely not a copyright violation to remove material on the basis of claimed copyright violation even when posted by the rightsholder, though it may be a violation to not reinstate it if the claim is challenged and not counter-challenged under DMCA. But look, you clearly don't know enough about copyright to make any reliable statement on the subject. Maybe stop? – Nij Nov 8 '18 at 6:56
• Isn't this exactly how we have been handling these threads for as long as I can remember. Only we never needed any special close reasons. A friendly moderator can delete a question and lock it together with an explanation. And after the contest deadline undelete and unlock it. AT THAT POINT ALL THE (TEMPORARILY) LOST REP POINTS WERE RESTORED, and the question became fair game to any interested future answerer. The volume of contest questions is not that high. IIRC Daniel Fischer and I managed to handle it just fine between us two. – Jyrki Lahtonen Nov 12 '18 at 5:15