Recently this question about a classic contest problem was closed as a duplicate of another about the same problem. The closed question asks about a specific approach to the problem, though, and how to make it work or why it can't work; the question it was closed as a duplicate of doesn't speak about that approach at all. This meta-question of whether questions are about the problem or about the approach has come up a few times before; see e.g. this. Is this just inevitably a judgement call (plausible), or would it make sense to informally try and lean the site one way or the other in such matters?

(n.b.: I have an answer posted to the question that was closed duplicate, so I obviously have a vested interest here.)

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    $\begingroup$ There is a variety of approaches or standards that SE communities set for close-as-duplicate. In place of "exact duplicate" many communities impose a criterion of whether the Question can be solved by one or more Answers given under the proposed duplicate target. You have focused on the aspect of "method of solution" by which math problems might well be distinguished. I voted to reopen this meta Q, as I think this is worth some discussion, but a request for reopening the Q on main should be directed to the existing canonical thread. $\endgroup$
    – hardmath
    Feb 24 at 20:39
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    $\begingroup$ I elaborated on my views here. This is not an easy policy to formulate. Particularly if we want it to cover topics where there is a larger mass of material. For example, the special tag limits-without-lHospital is often ignored by the answerers (and the rest of them don't always search for duplicates). $\endgroup$ Feb 25 at 9:09
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    $\begingroup$ Having looked at the question and the answer I now realize that the associations I made were misguided. I apologize. Anyway, the problem stays that, unlike you did, the answerers rush to post whichever solution they can. Props for explaining the problem in their approach to the asker. $\endgroup$ Feb 25 at 19:59

1 Answer 1


To narrow the discussion let's assume the following characteristics of a Question:

(1) The problem that the Question is trying to solve is a known exact duplicate of a problem previously solved correctly in the Math.SE corpus.

(2) The user who now poses the problem wants to pursue an alternate approach, to the exclusion of the known successful approach used before.

(3) Responses are posted that explain why the user's approach is unworkable.

Under these circumstances it seems to me that closing-as-duplicate has the advantage of redirecting future Readers searching for the same problem to one or more valid solutions, while the author of the post being closed got a resolution of their idea.

As to the particular Question, I think the content is worth retaining and I upvoted both Answers that explain where the user's approach falls short. This sheds light for future Readers on what is needed to solve the contest-style problem discussed.

However I don't think it desirable to delete this Question, nor to try and merge its Answers with the duplicate target (they would be out of context there).

  • $\begingroup$ I hadn't considered that aspect to the closure; that does make good sense to me, thank you! $\endgroup$ Feb 25 at 16:12

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