update: This is resolved now - I did update the challenge, and I'm glad I did so.

I recently posted the challenge Write Moby Dick, approximately, which has proven popular and the answers are flowing in. However, it has one unforeseen issue that I'm tempted to try and fix.

The current best-scoring answers solve the problem in two steps: first strip out the newlines, then run some kind of text prediction algorithm, then use a second, separate algorithm to work out whether to replace a space with a newline or not. This is because the whale.txt file is wrapped to a line width of 73 characters, which makes the task of predicting newlines quite different from predicting the other characters.

I suspect that most if not all competitive answers will have to solve these two problems separately. This is inelegant, and it creates a barrier to entry for new approaches, since someone might have a great idea for a new text prediction approach, but it's unlikely to be competitive unless they also implement a separate linefeed prediction algorithm.

Because of this, I'm tempted to create a new file, whale2.txt, that's processed to remove this line wrapping. (It would still contain newlines, but only at the end of paragraphs.) I would provide both this file and the original whale.txt, and give people the choice of which to use. This way existing answers won't be invalidated, but new answers will not have to face the linefeed issue.

My question is just whether updating the challenge in this way is the right thing to do, or if it's better to just leave the question as it is. I think fixing the issue would improve the challenge, but I want to make sure this kind of change is acceptable in this community. I'd appreciate any comments, opinions, links to previous meta discussions, etc.

Update: I've created the whale2.txt file, and I guess I'll go ahead with this in 5 hours or so unless someone tells me it's frowned upon.

  • \$\begingroup\$ (I did update it in the end. (No-one has complained.)) \$\endgroup\$
    – N. Virgo
    Jan 12, 2018 at 13:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ The text file link seems to be broken. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 15, 2018 at 23:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JonathanFrech that's odd - but the correct link, gist.githubusercontent.com/nathanielvirgo/…, is in the updated question on the main site. (I don't want to edit this meta question as that will bump it, and it's obsolete now.) \$\endgroup\$
    – N. Virgo
    Jan 16, 2018 at 0:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Nathaniel don't worry about bumping it. It's even still in the "hot meta posts" sidebar, so you're not doing any harm. \$\endgroup\$
    – Riker
    Jan 16, 2018 at 15:51

2 Answers 2


Change it

But don't require answers to change for the new text.

This reminds me of my first challenge where I changed the text part way through and just required NEW answers to change and old answers could change or stay the same. Mind you it also golfed down the text.


Having two distinct (though similar) texts to predict, of which answerers may choose one, is akin to having two challenges in one. I'd recommend leaving it as-is, and after some time has passed, posting a follow-up challenge with the edited text (perhaps with a different source text to distinguish it further).

  • 9
    \$\begingroup\$ My feeling is that such a follow-up would be a duplicate, and likely would be closed as one. Besides, if Paint Starry Night is anything to go by, the time scale of this challenge is likely to about a year at least. I suppose I'm convincing myself that I should update it, and do so before it's too late. I do very much take the point about two challenges in one, but the challenge kind of already feels like that to me, and it's what I'm trying to resolve. \$\endgroup\$
    – N. Virgo
    Jan 11, 2018 at 6:08

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