I have been a member of Mathematics.SE for ten years. Yet I still don't understand why it is that when certain policies are introduced, they are not enforced or enforced selectively.

For example: puzzles. When I joined in 2012 there were many puzzles being posted. This was considered okay. Then one day I posted my own puzzle, a variation on an old Martin Gardner puzzle that I had worked on for quite some time. I was then informed that there was a new policy: puzzles were no longer welcome on MSE; it would be better if I posted my puzzle on a specialized website. Okay. My puzzle was deleted.

To my surprise, since that date MSE has accepted many puzzles. You would think that these would be met by the same warning that I got, or by downvotes, ultimately leading to the closing or deletion of the question. But no, apparently this never happens.

What is going on here ? Why do the moderators decline to enforce the policies agreed upon ?

  • 18
    $\begingroup$ Policies, such as they are, are enforced by the community. There is far too much traffic here for the moderators to vet every post. Hence policies are enforced selectively by the people who (a) see the post, (b) know the policy, and (c) choose to enforce the policy. There are plenty of places where things fall through the cracks. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Aug 5, 2022 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ Puzzles might be the subject of acceptable Math.SE Questions. The main criterion is that solutions can be given by reasoned mathematical argument. Other criteria still apply, such as being in English, provided with context, etc. That a Question might be suitable for another SE site does not make it unsuitable here. $\endgroup$
    – hardmath
    Aug 5, 2022 at 19:23
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    $\begingroup$ What is going on here? Looks to me like a big messy site that gets 75k visits per day, a new question every 5 minutes, is evolving to deal with a changing user base, and is run almost entirely by unpaid volunteers. Why? What did you think was going on here? $\endgroup$
    – JonathanZ
    Aug 5, 2022 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ The main problem currently is that CURED (the main source fighting against low quality questions) has FAR too few helpers to manage this flood of poor opinion-based or too broad questions that are nevertheless regulalry upvoted to heaven and get answers also upvoted to heaven becuase too many users still do not understand the actual purpose of this site. Maybe, this site just has too many users to be properly handled. $\endgroup$
    – Peter
    Aug 7, 2022 at 10:12
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    $\begingroup$ Another problem is that too many very high rep users that should know it better apparently support the tendency to transform this site to a free homework service although there are already far too many sites doing this, this site should not be one of them. $\endgroup$
    – Peter
    Aug 7, 2022 at 10:15
  • $\begingroup$ To adress the question about puzzles : Puzzles are not automatically considered to be off-topic. crucial is that context and some effort is presented. The problem is however that many such puzzles are of the kind "what is the next number in this sequence" and this is not mathemtical if we know nothing about how the sequence was built. $\endgroup$
    – Peter
    Aug 7, 2022 at 10:20
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    $\begingroup$ Puzzle type questions where you already know the answer are basically exactly what puzzling.se is for. They do not fit well here, where we now tend to expect a poster to be facing an actual problem (not just trying to entertain us with something that caught their fancy.) $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Aug 8, 2022 at 14:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Peter: CRUDE users have been able to spend significant effort in closing and deleting lots and lots of several-years-old questions and their answers, so I don't think that their availability is the main problem. $\endgroup$ Aug 18, 2022 at 7:37

2 Answers 2


To this date, Math SE has had many questions that were blatant contest cheating attempts that were neither closed nor deleted during the actual contest itself, despite the contest policy. Why? Because not every user knows about the policy, and not every one of those upholds the policy, and not every one who upholds it bothers to check whether a question is a contest question or not, even if it is a very poor question (just copy-pasting the problem with no effort shown).

Moderators did not "decline to enforce the policies agreed upon". Similarly for off-topic questions, for which moderators cannot even enforce closure except in clear-cut cases so as to avoid criticism of their unilateral closure being censorship. To bring a post to the attention of moderators, a user needs to flag it. To bring an off-topic question post into the review queues (where non-moderators can vote to close), a user needs to initiate it by casting the first close-vote/flag. If nobody who sees the post bothers to do that, then it's just like asking why not all bad apples are removed from the barrel.

  • $\begingroup$ Why received this perfect answer so many downvotes ? $\endgroup$
    – Peter
    Aug 7, 2022 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ honestly, i feel like it shouldn't be math.se's responsibility to protect contests. If you have a question that arrives here and is interesting and well posted then it will be answered. Contests should acquire a different model that makes it harder to cheat. $\endgroup$ Aug 18, 2022 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ @SidharthGhoshal: You're right that contest organizers should do a better job. But at the same time, Math SE is not an isolated forum in a vacuum. It lives as part of a wider mathematical community, and so has some responsibility to that community. That was the very reason for the contest policy. Anyway, the point here was not concerning the purpose for the contest policy, but was that even clear-cut policies are not completely enforced in the same way that not every person who does something illegal gets caught. $\endgroup$
    – user21820
    Aug 18, 2022 at 19:26
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    $\begingroup$ @SidharthGhoshal I try to enforce our contest policies as much as I can (much less since I gave up my diamond). Anyway, a contest organizer once told me that they have no trouble whatsoever identifying solutions copy/pasted from some source as such. In that sense their model is not broken. Yet, many regulars here have been involved in organizing math contests, and seek to defend their integrity. I guess it is mostly to uphold and instill a sense of honesty to the youngsters. Mind you, the finals of many contests (team selection contests, not mentioning IMO) are still done in person. $\endgroup$ Aug 19, 2022 at 13:22

When I post a puzzle question (for example this) I put a little introductory paragraph at the beginning:

Puzzle question... I know how to solve it, and will post my solution if needed; but those who wish may participate in the spirit of coming up with elegant solutions rather than trying to teach me how to solve it. [paraphrased from Lone Learner]

So far, they have not been closed.

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ I notice that both your linked question and Qiaochu's answer predate puzzling.stackexchange. I think there is a very strong argument nowadays that such questions should go there rather than here. Personally I do think "challenge" type questions are now off-topic here under most circumstances, and would vote to close new questions of this sort. $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Aug 6, 2022 at 13:07
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how old the questions of your own you refer to are, but it would not be surprising if they will never be closed. It's established practice not to retroactively apply today's standards (for the obvious reasons.) That in itself is not a justification for posting challenge-type questions today. $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Aug 6, 2022 at 13:08

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