As a forward, this is not about whether or not code golf is valid on Stack Overflow. If you argue against this, you're arguing against a mound of evidence, and you should be arguing in the other questions about this topic.

Most people (myself included) seem to be of the opinion that code golf questions, in and of themselves, are acceptable. Most people (again, myself included) also seem to be of the opinion that there is a certain frequency at which there are too many code golf questions being asked too quickly, or of "too low quality." Also brought up is whether or not low-reputation users should ask code golf questions, as they are not as well established in the community (which is the entire point of code golf).

So, in light of this, I suggest we discuss (and hopefully establish) a rule or guideline concerning the asking of code golf questions. Post answers suggesting metrics you think should be used to govern code golf, and upvote answers that you think are best. That way, we'll get a community consensus on what is "too much" or "too low quality" code golf.

Points to address (reiterated to put them all in one easy-to-grok place):

  • How far apart, time wise, should code golf questions be? What frequency of code golf questions per your favorite period of time do you think is an acceptable maximum?
  • How should the quality of a code golf question be evaluated? Should quality be an important factor in determining whether or not a code golf question is allowed? (Note: I know this can easily be subjective, but all the rules about what is "appropriate" for code golf are subjective. Just because it's subjective doesn't mean we can't get good guidelines or ideas on how to answer it.)
  • Should the asker be taken into account when evaluating a code golf question for appropriateness? What guidelines should be used for that?
  • What actions, if any, should (or can) be taken to inform new users about code golf rules?

EDIT: Add this:

  • What are the minimum specification requirements for a code golf question? I don't think this is subjective, because it's impossible to answer a code golf question without knowing certain things, so this one shouldn't be easy. However, it is a separate issue from the quality discussed in point 2. That point is intended to deal with the quality of the challenge, not the quality of the challenge's specifications. I think should separate "well-asked code golf" from "good code golf" and evaluate (and treat) each separately. If you disagree, of course, say so.

closed as off-topic by Wrzlprmft, S.L. Barth, Infinite Recursion, Billy Mailman, James Aug 28 '15 at 18:12

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  • I will post an answer as soon as I get good a good answer to the second point. – Super Long Names are Hilarious Oct 1 '09 at 21:19
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    Thanks for asking this, I was really annoyed to see horrible code-golf questions at a fast rate... – LiraNuna Oct 1 '09 at 23:51
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    The answer is obvious: the code-golf tag should be reserved for LiraNuna, "Nobody does it better//Makes me feel sad for the rest// Nobody does it half as good as you// Baby, you're the best" :) – Benjol Feb 8 '10 at 8:57


Too many s too fast, distracts from the main mission of the site and from the attention that can be paid to each contest. Please don't post if your question would be the third one in any given seven day period

Non-negotiable requirements:

  • Community wiki
  • An indication of what the winning criterion is, either "shortest code" or "shortest source code"
    • The choice of wording allows the question poster to decide if object code entries (machine code, bytecode, etc.) should count.
    • If the winning criterion is something other than code brevity, then it's not a code golf, and the tag should be used instead.

Quality: A good code golf should

  1. be thoroughly specified
  2. be simple enough to be understood fully in two quick readings of the spec
  3. admit rapid naive implementations
  4. be complex enough to admit more than one reasonable way to accomplish it,
  5. have built-in-to-some-languages solutions excluded (i.e. no eval for arithmetic parsers and the like)
  6. not be optimized for one language or one class of languages
  7. not be too closely related to others we've done recently
  8. solve a class of problems rather than a single instance

I'm not going to answer the second half (should quality effect closability) because I feel that I've said my piece already.

Low rep users:

New users are strongly discouraged from posting code golf questions until they fully understand the specific circumstances under which these challenges are considered appropriate. You have been warned.


Good thing to specify:

  • should the solutions be bare functions or complete programs?
  • input spec.
  • output spec.
  • a clear description of how the input and output should be related
  • explicit statement of any error checking or recovery that should be performed (because fragile solutions are, well, par for the course)
  • test inputs with expected output

Things you are discouraged from specifing:

  • limits on or description of the process that should be applied to get from input to output


Please include an advisory link to this question.


The usual tags for code golf questions are

and possibly something relevant to the problem posed

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    I agree with all your points. +1. – user136672 Oct 1 '09 at 23:21
  • dmckee, How would you rate my challenges as opposed to others? I really want to hear. – LiraNuna Oct 1 '09 at 23:27
  • @LiraNuna: I haven't been keeping sore, but I'm generally happy to see your name on one. Sometimes your specs aren't perfect the first time out, but you respond to comments promptly, so it gets cleaned up. – dmckee Oct 1 '09 at 23:30
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    I've never been a fan of validating posts by the author's rep. However, I believe in this specific case, code golf questions should not be asked by people who are newbies to the community. It's an abuse of community resources to come and post your not-so-good puzzle without obeying the rules and without considering what StackOverflow is supposed to be in the first place. A minimum amount of reputation/answers should be required before trying to "challenge" the community. – xmm0 Oct 1 '09 at 23:52
  • @Mehrdad: I'm not sure that we've had a low rep user post a good code gold yet, so it may come down to the same thing. IN any case, your point is very reasonable, but then we have to try to choose a magic number, and I don't know where to go with that. – dmckee Oct 2 '09 at 0:33
  • I consider myself low rep... my verbal skill is poor so my answers aren't voted up as well. – LiraNuna Oct 2 '09 at 0:39
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    @Mehrdad: Perhaps rather than requiring a specific "magic" amount of rep, it would be sufficient to merely say something like: "New users are strongly discouraged from posting code golf questions until they fully understand the specific circumstances under which these challenges are considered appropriate. You have been warned." That said, if a newbie posts a truly excellent challenge, I'd have no objection. As always on SO, the post itself should stand or fall on its own. – ベレアー アダム Oct 2 '09 at 2:04
  • Okay, CWed the question (and my answer). How do we go about adding the FAQ tag (assuming we should)? – Super Long Names are Hilarious Oct 2 '09 at 5:30
  • Another thing to specify: whether use of eval-type functions are permitted. (And suggest "no"?) – DIgitalRoss Oct 21 '09 at 20:33
  • External libraries allowed? For a good code-golf question, this shouldn't matter, but now we have screen-scaping. So, not the best code-golf ever but still a bit interesting. It can be solved with and without xpath et al, but the question should specify. – DIgitalRoss Oct 21 '09 at 21:35
  • "specify: whether use of eval-type functions are permitted" That would be my #5...as for libraries, I think that they are usualally agin the whole spirit of the thing – dmckee Oct 21 '09 at 21:46
  • Can you please add "should mention 'shortest code' or similar"? – gnibbler Mar 19 '10 at 9:12
  • @gnibbler: Good point, but I'm not sure quite how to make it fit in, and I made this CW so I wouldn't have to do all the edits. You have the power – dmckee Mar 19 '10 at 12:33
  • Cool, I've made an edit after some consultation with gnibbler. If people don't think it sounds right, just edit it some more. :-) – Chris Jester-Young Mar 19 '10 at 20:39

Okay, Chris beat me to posting it here.

But I prepared this for my 'complain' for the recent code golf bomb.

alt text
(source: liranuna.com)

Marked in yellow are my questions. Blue are 'other users'. The reason the challenge Seven Segment was ranked relatively low was because I added a rule where you cannot use eval or system, mainly to prevent the use of figlet. But people seemed to hate restrictions, so now I design my questions to not impose limitations, like Lasers, which I consider highly successful.

  • Is the vertical scale net votes for the question? – dmckee Oct 1 '09 at 23:27
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    Lasers was great. – GManNickG Oct 2 '09 at 0:07
  • Laser was, indeed good, and some of the submissions were sweet. But I liked Morse Code better. :p – dmckee Oct 2 '09 at 1:10
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    @GMan - Do you like lasers? – Super Long Names are Hilarious Oct 2 '09 at 4:46
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    I like lasers. pew pew – GManNickG Oct 2 '09 at 18:36
  • Lasers is my favorite so far. Too bad I was late to the party - The winning perl(160) solution has been soundly beaten by Python(156), Ruby(146), and golfscript(83) ;) – gnibbler Mar 19 '10 at 8:29

I'm only going to pose one question as an answer to one of the points: When is Jeff adding "Reason for closing: Already too many code golfs this week"?

You can subjectively up/down-vote or vote to close a code golf on any other merit*, but you can't police the community on how frequently code golf questions are asked.

* Might be neither here nor there, but I'll agree that the code golf I posted was fairly shitty. It sounded good in my head, but after I actually wrote it out it was clear how poor of a question it was. I'd just as soon have the question deleted, frankly, but I don't think that can happen with how many answers there are already.

  • The links Chis posted at the top make it clear that the consensus is for code-gold right now. They'd have to become a real pain in the butt for that to change. And don't fret one question that "seemed like a good idea at the time: not every question can be great. – dmckee Oct 1 '09 at 23:36
  • You could always flag a moderator to delete it for you. – Brad Gilbert Oct 2 '09 at 0:05
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    Agreed: I think trying to stake out a position where high-quality code golf questions are acceptable individually, but not as a group, is a tough undertaking. Good questions are timeless. The only situation when the order of questions should come into play is if there is a duplicate. [and for the record, I'm generally opposed to the broad category of challenge questions.] – Anonymous Oct 2 '09 at 0:36

I'd prefer no code golf, but since that's not an option...

As many have pointed out, code golf needs to be limited in frequency. Also needs to be of a given quantity. I really don't see a way for that to happen naturally in the site. That's the type of thing that truly needs to be moderated. Code golf items should be submitted for approval, then released by a moderator (if appropriate) at a "reasonable" interval.


How far apart, time wise, should code golf questions be? What frequency of code golf questions per your favorite period of time do you think is an acceptable maximum?

There is no maximum, if the questions are quality ones.

How should the quality of a code golf question be evaluated?

If it survives community scrutiny without getting closed, it's a quality question.

Should the asker be taken into account when evaluating a code golf question for appropriateness?

Absolutely not. Do you look at a user's profile before you upvote or downvote them?

What actions, if any, should (or can) be taken to inform new users about code golf rules?

If these rules become part of the Official FAQ, you can post a link to the Code Golf FAQ in a comment to the OP.


We seem to have a really good answer from dmckee, and I agree with almost anything he said, so reposting all his answers is fruitless. However, I would like to add:

  • What actions, if any, should (or can) be taken to inform new users about code golf rules?

I think (this is me) that this question, with dmckee's answer probably accepted fairly soon, should be part of the FAQ if possible. I also think that code golf questions (preferably all) should link to them, like this:

See the Stack Overflow unofficial policy on code golf before posting your own code golf.

Sort of how the system edits questions to contain "Cosed as duplicate: [link]" when they're closed, only I wouldn't want to bother Jeff to add to the system, so it can be self-enforced. Hopefully this way, no one will read a bunch of code golf questions and think "I'm gonna make my own!" without seeing the link to the (un)official guidelines that we expect them to follow. I think that will help keep the number of code golf questions reasonable and keep the quality high. If they're all supposed to be Community Wiki anyway, it's fairly trivial to edit that line (or some variation) into code golf questions. That way, anyone who enjoys code golf will have no excuse for not knowing what Stack Overflow users expect from a code golf question.

  • I made my answer CW, and tried to give it a more FAQ answer like structure. – dmckee Oct 2 '09 at 5:12
  • @dmckee - Are FAQ's supposed to be community wiki? – Super Long Names are Hilarious Oct 2 '09 at 5:13
  • I don't know, but I wouldn't feel right getting more rep from it now. – dmckee Oct 2 '09 at 6:40
  • Take the rep. I can see no more honorable goal in life than helping others work out their problems and enjoy themselves. – Super Long Names are Hilarious Oct 2 '09 at 7:10

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