Proposal: Math Challenges

Homework questions are boon and bane at Math.SE

How will MatCh.SE deal with hw?

Will it be as stigmatized here as it is there?

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    Another interesting question is how we'd deal with standard competition problems. I'm sure the issues of the Mathematics page of dealing with live competitions would be magnified on a site aimed for challenges. @TheSimpliFire – Rushabh Mehta Sep 4 at 14:22
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    @RushabhMehta Please see this post. Ongoing competitions are off-topic. – TheSimpliFire Sep 6 at 6:45
up vote 12 down vote accepted

As MathCh.SE is for users to challenge other users, isn't it supposed/required that the solution to a question is already known to the asker? If so, then aren't homework and contest questions just inherently off-topic?

It's possible I'm misinterpreting the purpose of the site, so the answers to the above could be "no". That said, Math.SE and MathOverflow already exist to address math questions whose answers are unknown to the asker; why bother adding a third site?


This raises the question:

How does the reader know that the solution is known to the asker?

I'm not sure. (I'm also not sure it matters. Does Puzzling.SE make a big deal about stuff like this?) Perhaps most issues and misunderstandings in this regard could be avoided with a clear notice in the question-entering form that knowledge of a solution is expected; a pointer to Math.SE as the place to post unsolved challenges (and/or to get homework assistance) would help, too. Of course, there are always after-the-fact consequences: downvotes from users and/or reprimands from moderators.


A final thought: If knowledge of a solution isn't expected of askers, then tags "solution-known" and "solution-unknown" would be helpful to readers. (Maybe each challenge should be required to show one tag or the other.)

  • 3
    I should note that contest Qs (not live) that don't have public solutions should be made community wiki. – TheSimpliFire Sep 8 at 8:29
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    Regarding the final line: "solution-known" is for all non-community-wiki Qs and unknown for (old) contest Qs. So these tags won't really do much – TheSimpliFire Sep 8 at 8:31
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    "I'm not sure [how we can know this]" roughly cancels out "[It is] required that the solution to a question is already known to the asker". Having a requirement that's not enforceable at all doesn't make sense. It's not a big problem on Puzzling IMO because the questions aren't typical homework questions. It is a big problem on Stack Overflow, even though such questions are received really badly. There shouldn't be a tag to indicate whether the solution is known - those are Meta tags (which are bad) and whether the asker knows the solution shouldn't affect answers. – Dukeling Nov 7 at 12:39
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    @Dukeling: Well, one reason to at least be wary a question without a known answer is that it might be equivalent to the Collatz Conjecture or some other open problem. Or someone could hang an integral sign on an arbitrarily-complicated expression just to watch people spin their wheels trying to solve an unsolvable problem. shrug Maybe fore-knowledge isn't a requirement, but I'd strongly recommend noting when it's absent. Occasionally, someone on Math.SE posts a conjecture without presenting it as such; as often as not, the result is false (if not nonsensical), wasting everyone's time. – Blue Nov 7 at 13:19

Most homework questions are pretty routine and standard (if one knows the subject). I'd assume that most homework questions would be off-topic as not interesting, not creative, not challenging enough.

To get the details of this right is likely a difficult task, but I'm pretty sure that to work, this site needs to work-out and enforce some quality standards for the challenges.

These would run along lines quite different than on the Mathematics site.

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    Would math educators be given the benifit of getting homework problems from here to give their students? – MisterGeeky Sep 2 at 20:26
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    It seems feasible that instructors would use this and related sites as source or inspiration for homework problems, but dually to what I said mostly the problems will not be of the right type. – quid Sep 2 at 21:13
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    Reddit's /r/mathriddles seems like a similarly targeted site, and their rules say "In general, if you might expect to see a problem on a typical school exam, don't post it here." This might be a useful guideline for Math Challenges as well. – Misha Lavrov Sep 3 at 15:25
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    I also think that a good site to model this site off of might be PPCG. Thoughts? @quid – Rushabh Mehta Sep 4 at 14:17
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    @RushabhMehta yes, I think so. Especially if it stays as focused on original problems only. Another relevant site could be Puzzling – quid Sep 4 at 18:26

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