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Sometimes, questions are posted that turn out to be part of a problem from an ongoing contest. We've discussed this on meta in the past (here, here, and here), but we never settled on an explicit policy. In absence of such a policy, the moderation team has internally decided how to deal with these questions consistently. This has worked well so far, but I think it is better to have an explicit written policy. Such a policy would make it clear what people who report these questions can expect from us and allows for community input even if there is no consensus.

I have drafted the policy that the moderation team is more or less following right now in an answer below. Please discuss changes to a proposed policy in the comments, or suggest alternative policies or other thoughts in another answer. Note that since this answer describes the status quo, the moderation team will follow that policy unless the community clearly prefers a different policy.


For a bit more background, I looked around what some other sites on Stackexchange do. On Stackoverflow, contest questions are allowed if they are otherwise good questions, while on Mathematics.SE contest questions are locked until the contest ends. What we currently do here is somewhere in the middle of Stackoverflow and Mathematics.SE. On Physics.SE, contest questions are seen as a special case of "academic dishonesty" and are locked/closed if the contest rules do not allow outside help.

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This post describes the policy that the moderation team currently applies.

Policy

If a question is clearly and specifically about an active1 contest problem and would otherwise be a fine question2, then please:

  • Leave a comment on the question with a link to the relevant contest problem.
  • Flag the question for moderator attention.

If a moderator agrees that this question is about the linked contest problem, they will close the question, ask the question author to provide the source of their question, and inform the authors of any current answers of the contest problem, giving them the opportunity to delete their answers if they wish.

If the author of the question edits their question to clearly state that it is about an active contest problem, they can contact the moderators to have their question reopened.

When the contest has ended, anyone can ask to have the question reopened and answers undeleted, but the moderation team will not keep track of this.

Rationale

I do not want to blindly enforce rules imposed by other sites3. For example, suppose there is a contest with a well known problem, about which there is a question on CS.SE and someone asks to remove this question. I think it would be unreasonable to prevent discussion of a well known problem just because it is part of a contest. I could come up with more examples, but I hope you get the idea that the goals of CS.SE do not necessarily align with an arbitrary programming contest site, so we cannot just follow their rules without question.

On the other hand, in most of the cases where it gets reported, these contest questions will be effectively "cheating". I do not want to encourage such behaviour or unwittingly assist in it. However, it is not always clear if a question would be cheating. So, while I want to make sure that everyone is fully informed of the situation, I want to leave the decision of whether to answer (or retract an existing answer) to the potential answerer themselves, instead of making that decision for them.


1: "active" means the contest has an end date which lies in the future. Note that this excludes contests without an end date, since I do not want to have an indefinite embargo on questions.

2: Questions that do not meet our site standards should be closed independent of whether they are about a contest. We have some advice here how to ask a good question about homework or contest problems.

3: This does not mean that we ignore whatever happens outside of CS.SE. For example, we do not allow plagiarism, no matter the source.

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  • $\begingroup$ Sounds reasonable to me. One concern I have though is that I often see questions that look like they might be contest problems, but I don't know that they are. I sometimes post a comment asking if this is part of an active contest, but it is very easy for the OP to just say "No". Any ideas? $\endgroup$ – j_random_hacker Apr 14 at 18:07
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    $\begingroup$ @j_random_hacker A related strategy is to ask where they encountered the problem. Sometimes that provides context that can be useful for answering (e.g., what topic they're studying right now, which book they're learning from) if it is shared with us. Of course, it doesn't solve the problem: it's easy for the OP to just not answer (but then each contributor is free to decide whether they want to spend their time providing an answer). $\endgroup$ – D.W. Apr 15 at 5:23

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