So I was looking through the close review queue today and I saw this question: An algorithm for finding converse duplicates of ordered pairs

The OP asked for an algorithm to find certain parts of related elements in a list. For some reason, all the answers are of the form "Here's my solution in [language]: [big block of code]" without any attempt at discussing algorithmic trade-offs like worst-case time complexity versus implementation complexity. I would assume the latter is what we want from an "algorithm question"; otherwise they should Google or ask on SO with a specific language tag (right?).

My first question is: What should we do when this happens to a question? Closing doesn't feel right to me, since it's still a well-written, on-topic, answerable question. It has been protected, which I completely agree with, but there's probably something else that should be done.

For the record, I was prompted to ask this because of the somewhat odd custom close reason that was provided. See these comments:

I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because as written and answered, the question is answerable by unexplained code snippets in arbitrary languages. – MichaelT 2 days ago

@MichaelT: Full marks for originality: I've never seen that as a close reason before. It was a serious question about an actual problem and I was disappointed at the outcome. I thought it deserved better answers, but is that the fault of the question? – david.pfx yesterday

@david.pfx I'm not sure. I remember looking at the question nearly a year ago and thinking it looked good and could get some good answers. Unfortunately, what you are getting is "here's an implementation in python, here's another one in ruby..." and it appears to be taking on more of an algorithm golf problem nature (with some code) than what I'd really like to see from the question. – MichaelT yesterday

My second question is what the OP asked here: Was this the fault of the question? or better yet Could the question be edited in a way that might discourage these "code-only" answers?

I'm also not sure if this is a trend or just one exceptionally unlucky question; I personally haven't seen it happen anywhere else, but I haven't searched for more examples.

  • 2
    Programmers is about conceptual questions and answers are expected to explain things. Throwing code dumps instead of explanation is like copying code from IDE to whiteboard: it may look familiar and even sometimes be understandable, but it feels weird... just weird. Whiteboard doesn't have compiler
    – gnat
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 7:05

1 Answer 1


I think there are two things that need to be addressed.

The Question

When I see a question that has a good idea but poor phrasing, I will edit it to be more objective and to ask for a more abstract, conceptual answer. In that question, what is the algorithm?

The difficult part is that specific question already asks for an algorithm, then goes on to request a solution in actual code. In other words, it is saying "here is my problem, write my code for me." To the author's credit, he did a really good job describing the problem, explained his mental block, and gave objective success criteria. For those reasons, I would not vote to close the question, I would improve it.

I did edit that question to remove the code request.

The Answers

This is one is easy. Answers of poor quality should be downvoted.

When a question does not already have a quality answer worthy of being accepted, feel free to provide one even if it is an old question.

  • 2
    Somehow I completely missed the part of the question that was asking for code. That explains a lot, thanks.
    – Ixrec
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 8:14

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