The reCAPTCHAs have suddenly become almost illegible. I regularly have to change it four or five times before I find one I can read. I am tempted to just enter the known word (an easy guess), and leave the other. Can something be done?

  • 15
    +1 I suspect there's a good reason, but it has definitely got harder for me recently. Since the "white" characters came into it.
    – chibacity
    Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 17:10
  • They totally knock it out! Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 17:11
  • 3
    I usually manage to type it right the second time, but it has certainly become much harder since the white characters were introduced. But even more, I'd like to know why I have to prove I'm human when I want to correct a small typing error in my post. I know many humans don't, but still... :)
    – GolezTrol
    Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 21:15
  • 3
    start: I'm human // Goto start Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 21:22
  • Is the "known word" always in the same position?
    – Pops
    Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 22:13
  • 2
    possible duplicate of Captcha Verification? Really??
    – Pollyanna
    Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 23:04
  • 11
    This has really gotten brutal over the past few days, I think I'd almost want email verification each edit at this point, it's getting that bad. Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 23:21
  • @Popular Demand, I don't give out that info. I will say, though, that a lot of it is guesswork. Commented Jan 24, 2011 at 12:55
  • @Arlen, easy, there. Nobody's asking you to reveal all the secrets of reCAPTCHA. Based on the question, I thought maybe there was some publicly available information that I wasn't aware of, or something. In any case, how you figure it out doesn't really matter, as long as you know.
    – Pops
    Commented Jan 24, 2011 at 16:01
  • @Popular Demand, I am not involved in reCAPTCHA, I just don't want to help spambots in any way, that's all. I am sure I could have worded it a lot differently, sorry if I offended you. Commented Jan 24, 2011 at 18:10
  • 2
    I find it odd that when one human posts a question he gets +19 upvotes, but when another human posts a question at meta.stackexchange.com/questions/31004/… he gets downvoted. Commented Jun 13, 2011 at 1:01
  • 1
    I complained about this on the heap Feb 13, when I noticed a massive surge in the difficulty to read phrases. I was told I didn't understand the purpose of captcha. <shrug>
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 0:26
  • 1
    Totally agree, the whole idea is pointless as these days real spammers can probably bypass any CAPTCHA without any effort. Oh well! Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 7:23
  • I've been a member of Stack Overflow for 2 months but I've never seen a captcha (on this site obviously). Where can I find one? Have they been removed by the time I showed up? Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 15:53
  • 1
    Personally, I'm in favour of a return to 'orange'. :)
    – Benjol
    Commented Aug 13, 2012 at 7:39

6 Answers 6


Stack Overflow is a tech savvy community. If users are complaining Recaptchas are too hard to read (I for one can only solve 1 in 10), then the situation is beyond the pale.

The audio captchas have become plain impossible. For example http://picosong.com/w6Fs/ . This site is no longer accessible.

NB. Users with high reputation are seldom asked captchas, hence are oblivious of the issue (edited to be civil)

  • 4
    An anecdote contrary to your NB: I've been given three tests in the past day, with 20k rep on SO, and, yeah, seriously, they are almost impossible. I failed one twice, and one once, and had to request a new one for all three a couple of times.
    – jscs
    Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 4:10
  • 5
    A good way to be ignored by "admins" and "power users" is to rant about them ignoring your plight. You have a legit problem, address it in a constructive fashion.
    – user7116
    Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 14:52
  • 1
    You're right, sorry. Still, hyperbole got your attention :p Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 19:40

recaptcha 1 recaptcha 2 recaptcha 3 recaptcha 4 recaptcha 5 what is this I don't even

Yes, I realize you can refresh and you'll eventually get one that's not impossible. I have to say though, recaptcha is going to stop being a viable option in the near future. Unless eventually the bots are the only ones that can solve them and we only let people in if they get it wrong.

  • 14
    +1 for digging up that ancient animated GIF of me the first time I got hit with a captcha here...
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 0:28
  • They do seem to be getting really hard lately. Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 2:38
  • 4
    "ncecenti for many" "periedco sep" "sylesDo afternoon."" "leterym bars," "rbio ftlesco"
    – Someone
    Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 2:54
  • 15
    @Purmou that was a very strange message to see in my inbox
    – Brad Mace
    Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 4:04
  • 3
    @Purmou: Pretty sure that last one starts with "this" -- the more legible half is (almost always) a real word, because it's actually using you to check OCR from old books (see the reCaptcha site for details). (Pro tip: you can actually pass junk (including nothing, I think) for that half and still pass the test.)
    – jscs
    Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 4:14
  • 1
    I think the "vertical split" pattern is new to ReCaptcha (a bug?) and yes it's extremely annoying
    – Zelda
    Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 19:40
  • @Purmou Thanks, that saved me from having to spend money on Mechanical Turk :P
    – user164291
    Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 20:51
  • Recaptcha only validates one of the words, and its typically the easier one. Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 14:09
  • @CodesInChaos You don’t have to get them both right? So why answer both?
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 11, 2012 at 13:54
  • 7
    "Type the two words" - these are the instructions beneath the image. Regardless of Recaptcha's actual contradictory behaviour, the massive majority of users follow the instructions to the distorted letter. Commented Aug 13, 2012 at 9:18

Nice try, robot.

  • 3
    Is this a joke?
    – user145675
    Commented Feb 7, 2011 at 13:17
  • 11
    @user Yes, it's a joke.
    – Pollyanna
    Commented Feb 7, 2011 at 16:07

Saw these today at https://meta.stackoverflow.com/captcha/. If you can solve even one of these, maybe there is no issue? Note that for some of these it would be difficult if not impossible to solve even one of the two words - and how many new users (you know, the ones that are more likely to trigger human verification) will have any idea that you only need to solve one?

enter image description here

(I especially like the "1 cm2" one which looks like they tried to redact it.)

If I can find those by hitting refresh for 5 minutes and seeing a bad one about every third or fourth refresh, I'm sure this is a pretty frustrating issue for users who hit this naturally. Requesting a new captcha is not a terrible hardship, but the output should always be readable, and should always contain characters I can enter using a standard keyboard. Giving me something I can't solve does not allow me to prove I'm human nor can it expose me as a robot.

That said, I don't know if there's much we as a site can do about this directly, unless there are other captcha services to consider. It seems we are largely at the whim of the quality that Google chooses to provide; even if we can drastically improve the algorithm which triggers a captcha, if you get more than a couple in any time frame, you're likely to get at least one of these that you can't solve.

  • 3
    A lot of these don't even use latin characters...
    – gobernador
    Commented Aug 12, 2012 at 21:17
  • 14
    Right? Where's my 𝜋 key? And my auxiliary Hebrew keyboard?
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Commented Aug 12, 2012 at 21:27
  • If you don't have an international keyboard or your Windows set to do international keys, how are you supposed to type non-ASCII characters? Commented Aug 13, 2012 at 8:32
  • @NicolBolas exactly, you can't. And even viewing my comment here doesn't work on all devices - 𝜋 gets converted to a plain box on the mobile version on an iPhone.
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Commented Aug 13, 2012 at 14:13
  • 1
    They're using reCaptcha to OCR books, no? So these are obviously scans that didn't line up. You trigger it more, you see more of them. The 1cm2 bit is just a bad illustration, likely from a math book done as an example, so obviously not redacted. I think the larger problem here is that they just get triggered too frequently for users with more experience on the sites. And I think they introduced a downscaling algo to push them down, even still.
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Aug 13, 2012 at 14:23
  • 4
    @jcolebrand I got all of these in a 5 minute span. And it was literally a ratio of about 2 or 3 "solvable" ones to every unsolvable one. Are you really trying to insist that this isn't a problem, and that it hasn't gotten worse? Can you solve any of the above?
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Commented Aug 13, 2012 at 14:24
  • I am trying to insist that this isn't a SE problem, and that the best SE can do to reduce it is to lower the rate that higher-rep'd users get shown this dialog. The fact that you're playing mechanical turk doesn't seem to me to be a problem. I for one don't mind playing mechanical turk.
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Aug 13, 2012 at 14:28
  • @jcolebrand I tried to insist the same thing as part of my answer (see the last paragraph). I'm hoping that someone can look into the Google offering and see if there are any plans to improving the junk they're putting out. Or look at reducing the overall impact even further. Or both.
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Commented Aug 13, 2012 at 14:29
  • I think they've reduced it all they care for at this point. But my point was, you've introduced additional arguments besides "look, obviously I know what I'm doing, can we turn it down a little more" .. lookit "oh, redacted text" and "the output should always be readable", those being nonsensical and something we have no control over as consumers of the service, respectively. Anyways, this has been asked repeatedly, and I expect it to be dismissed again as status-declined
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Aug 13, 2012 at 14:36
  • 2
    @jcolebrand I'm merely showing examples of how the service has degraded, that's all. The ratio of unsolvable captchas was nowhere near this bad back in February when I bitched about it. Surely somebody must care that Google's offering has declined in quality, even if you don't. :-)
    – Aaron Bertrand Staff
    Commented Aug 13, 2012 at 14:38
  • 1
    I do care, but not that it has "declined in quality" so much as "the problems are harder to solve, so maybe Google needs to scan more books"? I seem to recall a lot of publishers getting pissy with Google over that lately. So really if memory serves, you're upset that publishers don't want their books to be available on the internet. Down with closed-source! Viva la data!
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Aug 13, 2012 at 14:54
  • 10
    I was caught by the robot check yesterday, probably in the middle of this unsolvable streak(?). If I have to try 10 times before I can solve the captcha, which is what happened, it just isn't working. Don't care who's fault it is. If it isn't working, we can't use it.
    – Bo Persson
    Commented Aug 13, 2012 at 15:29

I'm not sure how relevant it is to the discussion at hand, but it may be surprising for some people to hear that recaptchas are used to decipher scanned literature.

It is not only for spam prevention, and knowing this may make it a little less annoying when glitches like this occur for you in future. Essentially, knowing that it's not a complete waste of your time, you are helping a worthy cause.

I'm sure if enough people skip difficult captchas they'll stop being given.


If you don't know by now and can't solve these, captcha's are basically being used as a deterrent now. You'll probably notice the sites that the captcha is impossible to solve will also have a premium or paid feature of whatever you are trying to access. While others like signing up for an email account or something completely free you will easily be able solve. It's not rocket science. Sites now look for any way to make money. So they take something that was Imo a bad idea to begin with and use it to their advantage.

You can look at other uses of deterrent as well. Take a forum for example. There are many forums that have an absurd amount of "security questions" and captcha's that are very hard to solve and it so obvious they are really just using it to limit the number of members. And in the end there is no way to argue with it as its deemed "security" measures.

So really you take a form of security to let actual people in, then turn it around to actually keep people out. which is why the whole captcha system was flawed to begin with. Eventually you will only see it on some shady sites, even the sites now that implement the impossible ones don't stick around for to long.

  • Hi, and welcome to Stack :) Your answer here isn't really useful to the question/discussion, and most of it seems to be a moan about things like forums. Also, sites are not really using captchas to push users to buy their paid services. Sites with paid services usually get a load of hits on the free side, so shove hard captchas on there as security. As someone who's dabbled in owning a forum, I can tell you that they are not trying to stop people signing up - getting users is the most problematic thing for a forum, they're not going to make it worse for themselves :)
    – James
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 21:24

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