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I asked this question: Guess the 5 letter word.

As I commented, the FAQ says, "if your question generally covers ... a software algorithm ... then you’re in the right place to ask your question!" It also says you should ask, "practical, answerable questions." My question is a practical, answerable algorithms question. In addition, it doesn't violate any of the "should I not" examples.

I don't see any conflict with the FAQ, but it was downvoted multiple times and closed almost immediately. That says to me that either the FAQ no longer matches the site, or something about my question jumped out as a false negative.

A friend of mine asked it to me, and I thought it was a great question, but I'm not so sure there's any Stack Exchange site to post an interesting algorithms problem to, now. That would be a shame because those questions are fun.

Edit I see that the based on actual problems that you face part of the FAQ is important and not really reflected in my question.

My final food for thought is that I love this question as a computer scientist, it's a great interview question, and isn't it kind of a shame that it doesn't belong on a site about programming and algorithms?

I for one wish there was a better balance between, "Think about this interesting algorithms problem" questions and, "How do I do this in jQuery?" questions.

share|improve this question
Here's an example of a problem in a similar style with a ton of upvotes.… – Dave Aaron Smith Aug 31 '11 at 16:08
Note that the OP actually tried to solve his problem himself in that question, and came for help when his solution was too slow. AND he was specifically looking for code, not just designs. – Lance Roberts Aug 31 '11 at 16:12
What's the downvote for? Anybody know? I think downvotes should come with comments. – Dave Aaron Smith Aug 31 '11 at 16:52
Down-votes on meta means somebody disagrees with what your question implicates. – kiamlaluno Aug 31 '11 at 16:59
Several people have suggested Programmers SE, but this might be good for Code Golf and Programming Puzzles as well, with slight rewording. – Pops Aug 31 '11 at 17:48
up vote 12 down vote accepted

The thing is, as interesting as your question might happen to be, it doesn't involve a practical problem you're trying to solve accompanied by your own personal efforts of solving said problem - that's the fundamental baseline, in my experience, on Stack Overflow.

While these kinds of questions could have been on-topic at some point in the history of the site (and doubtless some will remain that others could pull up as examples of acceptability), the drive of the site is very targeted now, towards A) solving real problems with B) exhibiting reasonable effort on your own behalf.

Giving us a description of a problem and then demanding "describe", doesn't go down to well with those dedicating expensive time to help those in need; some won't waste their precious time, others could become indignant that you'd expect that time from them, and so on.

As far as editing the FAQ goes, I think you can read into it enough to understand why your question doesn't fit the bill, even from the following line alone:

Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

Given that you provide no effort in solving this issue, if it were to be left open, perhaps swathes of answers could come in many different forms, spurring arguments and discussions of all kinds... considering the potential number of ways there would be to achieve ones goal. There would be more parts of the FAQ applicable, also.

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Then the FAQ should reflect that, right? – Dave Aaron Smith Aug 31 '11 at 16:13
@DaveAaronSmith: It does. You conveniently forgot to copy the "based on actual problems that you face" part into your question, although it comes directly after the "practical, answerable questions" part (that you did quote) and is just as highlighted. – balpha Aug 31 '11 at 16:16
@balpha, good point. – Dave Aaron Smith Aug 31 '11 at 16:28
I like your discussion of the history of the culture of the site. That's helpful. – Dave Aaron Smith Aug 31 '11 at 16:42

If you were really writing such a program and had done some research/work on it, then came across a particular problem you were having difficulty with, I think it would be a fair topic on which to ask a question. As it is, the question is overly broad (you're not asking about a specific algorithm, but for any algorithm), it's not practical (or at least you haven't demonstrated any practicality), and it doesn't show any work on your part to solve it, which causes me to question if it really is a problem you're trying to solve or just a question asked out of idle curiosity. The latter are certainly frowned on, at least now though that hasn't always been the case.

I'd say that the in its current form the question isn't appropriate for SO, though I'd have closed it as "Not a real question" rather than "Off topic." The downvotes are reasonable since you haven't shown any effort towards a solution yourself -- that's one of the criteria for up/down votes on questions.

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+1 for "you're not asking for a specific algorithm, but for any algorithm" – Joel Coehoorn Aug 31 '11 at 19:47

Similar questions are accepted all the time in the and tags. I think the key difference is that they generally contain some partial solution and questions about why this does not work or how it could be done better.

Just dumping a problem and saying "please give me the codes", will indeed get closed quickly.

share|improve this answer
The interview-questions tag is a good idea. – Dave Aaron Smith Aug 31 '11 at 16:20
The interview-questions tag is not a get-out-of-closure-free card. – Michael Petrotta Aug 31 '11 at 16:29
@Michael Petrotta, I hate to ruin your joke by making you explain it... but I don't get it. – Dave Aaron Smith Aug 31 '11 at 16:37
It's not a joke, @Dave. You can't turn an off-topic question into an on-topic one simply by tagging it [interview-questions]. – Pops Aug 31 '11 at 17:45
Oh I was thinking software closures, or maybe, "I felt like I got closure at the end of our relationship." Duh. For the record, I'm pretty sure it was a joke, right? There is no literal get-out-clusre-free card that I know of. – Dave Aaron Smith Aug 31 '11 at 17:57
Just like the mythical Hacker badge, you never know, Dave. If you know the right people, you might find certain powers bestowed on you. – Michael Petrotta Aug 31 '11 at 19:11
(for the record, no, there is no such power/card) – Michael Petrotta Aug 31 '11 at 19:12

If your question generally covers ... a software algorithm ... then you’re in the right place to ask your question!"

That is true. But your question does not (yet) cover a software algorithm, because you haven't written the algorithm yet. It covers a potential software algorithm rather than an actual software algorithm. Write some code first, and then come back and ask why the algorithm in the code doesn't work as expected.

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Describe an algorithm that can successfully play this game.

This is not a specific code related question, it's a general, subjective code related question. You're not trying to solve a specific problem, you're asking for ideas.

This is not what Stack Overflow is designed to answer. Check out Programmers.

share|improve this answer
What about this problem then?… "suggestions/clues" "general hints" – Dave Aaron Smith Aug 31 '11 at 16:16
Or heck, what about this algorithms question I asked that got 9 upvotes and 600 views?… – Dave Aaron Smith Aug 31 '11 at 16:17
The reality is that you asked that question very differently. – Lance Roberts Aug 31 '11 at 16:24
That's true. I set it up as a contest and was more engaging. Maybe that makes a difference towards "exhibiting real effort on your own behalf" like @Mr. Disappointment points out. – Dave Aaron Smith Aug 31 '11 at 16:51

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