EDIT: not a duplicate of Policy on questions based on homework or tests (which I was clearly well aware of, having answered it myself), since that question was about "homework"-type questions, without really considering the issue of ongoing contests with real prizes.

This question consists of the following text (originally split across title and body, before my edit):

Which nation has a head of state who wrote unpublished novels earlier in life, including one set in pre-Columbian America, written — according to a person who had read it — with “terrible passages” involving human sacrifices but also “great mastery of language”?

On the face of it, this seems to be a perfectly on-topic question for our site. However, I discovered - thanks to a deleted answer - that it's part of the Financial Times 2017 Quiz of the Year:

Q.24 Which nation has a head of state who wrote unpublished novels earlier in life, including one set in pre-Columbian America, written — according to a person who had read it — with “terrible passages” involving human sacrifices but also “great mastery of language”?:

This is a currently ongoing competition with real prizes:

First prize for the FT Quiz of the Year 2017 is 52 bottles of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé, an elegant champagne to enliven any occasion. Ten runners-up will receive copies of Lunch with the FT: 52 Classic Interviews, edited by FT editor Lionel Barber. [...] Promotion opens December 22 2017 and closes 5pm GMT January 5 2018.

What policy should we take on on-topic questions which are part of ongoing competitions?

On the one hand, they're on-topic for our site, and it requires user surveillance to even notice that they're part of ongoing competitions; if we decide to ban them, some will surely slip through the net. On the other hand, by posting such questions, people are essentially trying to get our help with cheating. On the gripping hand, is that really our problem? We're not the Internet Police, and it's not our place to stop them from cheating in someone else's competition.

Possibilities include:

  • close/delete such questions on sight (deletion is preferable to closing, IMO, since they're not off-topic, and if closed but not deleted, even a comment might reveal the answer);
  • close/delete them and then reopen/undelete them once the competition is over;
  • leave them alone and let the competition runners worry about their competition.

3 Answers 3


Math StackExchange already has a policy regarding contest questions, which I propose we emulate.

This policy specifies that they don't actively police for contest questions, but if users realize a question is from a contest they're encouraged to flag it for the mods and include

  • Publicly accessible source where we can verify that the question does come from a contest.
  • Publicly accessible source where we can verify that the contest is currently on-going.

When the mods are made aware of a contest question, they

  • [They] will lock the question until after the end date of the contest. Note that due to granularity in the locking system the expiration of the lock may not coincide exactly after the expiration of the contest; if you see a contest problem locked past the contest end date, feel free to raise a flag and let the moderators know.
  • [They] will soft delete all answers on the question; they[the answers] will be restored after the contest finished. (Again, if you are a 10K user and see deleted answers to an expired contest problem, please raise a flag.)
  • [They] will, in the case not already present, provide links to the contest and its duration in the comments so the status of the contest can be easily verified.

This seems to me like a good way to establish that the Literature SE community should not be roped into helping people cheat on contests, without placing an undue burden on either the community or the mods.

  • How is it cheating?
    – Spagirl
    Jan 16, 2018 at 3:26

As someone from the other side, do not delete those questions. When I pose a contest question (not about literature, but the same principle applies), it's better if I can find with an internet search engine that someone has posted a verbatim copy to a forum, than if I never learn about it.

People like me who write such contest questions sometimes have the foresight to make them easily searchable, so that a lazy repost to a forum is easier to find. But even without that, many questions are naturally searchable.

If you do stumble upon such a question, I suggest writing a comment for the question noting which contest it is for, including any deadline. I don't have a strong opinion about whether we should close such questions.


While they may be on topic for the site, I am not a fan of allowing questions like this to remain, simply because they do not add anything to the site. The user asking the question is not really interested in advancing knowledge (either general or personal), they just want their answer, and are not interested in anything beyond that.

Homework questions are a little bit of a different beast. They are questions by people actively engaged in learning more about the subject matter, and can serve to drive later traffic to the site. In addition, if the person gets a helpful answer, they are more likely to remain members and possibly productive members as they progress in their learning.

Yes, there will probably be some that get through, but in the overall scheme, I think that they are not worth the hassle. They are the literature version of Movies/TV identification questions.

I would support @missmonicae's answer as well, that seems a very reasonable approach to the question.

  • 4
    I'm not necessarily opposed to banning such questions, but I definitely think this is the wrong reason to do so. We shouldn't ban a class of questions just because we think their OPs aren't likely to post more. If I or other high-rep users posted such questions, refuting your claim, what then? What makes the askers of such questions less likely to stick around than, say, the askers of ID or reading-order questions? Questions are supposed to be useful for more than just the OP, and questions from contests potentially are.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Jan 3, 2018 at 21:29
  • 2
    I don't really care if people stick around or not; someone who writes an excellent question or answer but them leaves has still contributed valuable content. We really should be evaluating content based on usefulness and quality, not on who is posting content.
    – user111
    Jan 3, 2018 at 21:30
  • (I mean if no one sticks around we dont have a site, but the stats show that isn't a problem for this community, and regardless banning content with poor retention doesnt really make people stick around. What makes people stick around is content thats engaging and/or useful.)
    – user111
    Jan 3, 2018 at 21:35
  • then i would edit this answer to focused on that and do a better job of explaining why.
    – user111
    Jan 3, 2018 at 23:24
  • @JohnP As I said in my first comment, I'm completely open to being persuaded that they don't belong. I downvoted this answer for the argument used, not for the base premise.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Jan 4, 2018 at 15:22
  • @Randal'Thor ^^
    – JohnP
    Jan 4, 2018 at 17:27
  • 2
    Thanks for editing, but I'm afraid my downvote remains. This is still more about the (presumed) type of user than about the content itself, and I don't see that as a good reason to ban a class of questions.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Jan 4, 2018 at 18:05
  • 1
    @Randal'Thor - Whatever. They are basically the same, the question is a one time throwaway, same with the user. In my mind they are the same, neither adds anything of value.There is no analysis behind the question needed, just a better google searcher.
    – JohnP
    Jan 4, 2018 at 18:11

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