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Recently there's been a bit of a discussion in chat about this challenge. It was put into the close vote queue as unclear, with the main reason being that it didn't state the winning criterion in the question (though it was tagged as code golf).

The requirement to include a description of the winning criterion comes from this meta consensus, and there seem to be two different viewpoints regarding how it should be interpreted:

  • Questions which do not state the winning criterion in the question, where the author's intent is clear, should be closed
  • Questions which do not state the winning criterion in the question, where the author's intent is clear, should be directly edited

This question isn't about handling questions without an objective winning criterion, just ones where there is no explicit explanation of it in the challenge.

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Edit if obvious, close if not

...and by obvious, I more or less mean , as, off the top of my head, I cannot think of any other criteria tag that’s so universally scored.

If a question is tagged , 99 times out of 100, it means that the shortest code in bytes wins. Older posts may have scored by characters rather than bytes, but the general rule now is bytes, so it’s a good default. If a question is tagged with code golf and doesn’t explicitly state the winning criteria in the question, I’d recommend editing in

This is so the shortest code in bytes wins

unless anything in the question would contradict this (for example, some older challenges have "the shortest, fastest code wins", or require you to count specific characters/bytes differently).

For any other winning criteria, you need clarification. So if a challenge is tagged with (for example) and contains no winning criteria or details on how to score answers, vote to close it as off-topic and without a winning criteria (or unclear if there is an objective criteria, but it's lacking in a couple of key areas).

Sometimes (primarily with older challenges or by new users), a challenge will contain 2 winning criteria, especially in the tags. If this is the case, I would suggest removing the "wrong" tag if the question explicitly states one as the winning criteria (e.g. "shortest code wins" but is tagged , . In this case, remove ). If it isn't clear which is intended, vote to close as unclear.

Finally, if the criteria is not , but the challenge author includes a partial description of how to score without being fully complete, I would say that editing is acceptable, but treat carefully, and consider VTCing instead, as you may miss the original intent of the author


If the challenge author is still around, I would suggest asking for clarification in the comments first before doing either of these things. While they're both reversible, both (and especially closing) can discourage a challenge author. You can check how active a user is by navigating to their user profile (by clicking on their username) and checking the side bar. Obviously, if not clarified within a couple of days, edit and vote away.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I would also say that things tagged code golf and another scoring tag are unclear. Some older challenges are like this and honestly don't know why or what was intended. \$\endgroup\$ – Wheat Wizard Dec 7 '20 at 20:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @WheatWizard As in those tagged with (e.g.) code golf and fastest code? I agree, but I think that's more widely accepted as "unclear" now, so is unlikely to be covered by this question. I have edited in a quick sentence about that though, just to be comprehensive \$\endgroup\$ – caird coinheringaahing Dec 7 '20 at 20:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are currently 3 open questions tagged both code-golf and fastest-code. One of them has as the winning criteria length, with speed as a tiebreaker, one of them's winning criteria are unclear, and the third one's winning criterion is speed with length as a tiebreaker. \$\endgroup\$ – pppery Dec 7 '20 at 20:17
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These questions should be directly edited

If a challenge is tagged , the author's intent is clear. Unless they go out of their way to change the meaning of code golf, which would constitute an explanation of the winning criterion, it can be assumed to be the default.

There are three outcomes that can come from closing the question:

  • The author is still active on the site, and edits it
  • The author is no longer active on the site, and somebody else edits it
  • The author is no longer active on the site, and it stays closed

In the first case and second case, the results are almost always going to be the same as directly editing. If the author tagged the question as code golf, it's pretty likely they intended for the default code golf scoring to apply.

If the author does not include the explanation, it's also likely that they are a new user. Even though it is temporary, having a question closed over something small can be very demoralizing, especially if it is otherwise a good question.

Finally, the main reason for the current meta consensus is so that new users understand what code golf means. It doesn't say anything about closing, as it doesn't say that those questions are unclear.

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