Einstein’s Riddle and Closed Questions

There was a question posted to Stackoverflow about an implementation of the solution of “Einstein’s Riddle” in F#.  Here’s the text of the question, which I include in case the text of the question is later altered:

I’m looking for Einstein’s Riddle solution using F# and I’ve found only Einstein meets F#.

Is F# suitable for this problem and are there any other implementations?

After a bit of discussion and debate, the question was closed.  After a bit more discussion, the question was reopened.  It’s currently well on its way to being closed again. This is nothing that unusual for Stackoverflow.

What I found quite interesting and a little bit troubling was a thread of tweets on Twitter about who closed the question and why it was closed.  Perhaps I misunderstood the tweets in question but it seemed that people thought the question was closed partly because it concerned F#. One person implied that one of the people who voted to close the question had no right to do so because he’s never answered an F# question and therefore can’t know anything about F#.

Now this is solely my opinion, of course, but I think the question should be closed, F# or not.  The reason is the second sentence.  “Is F# suitable for this problem and are there any other implementations?”  If he had stopped after the first question, I would have been fine with the question being left on Stackoverflow.  However, think about that second sentence “Is F# suitable for this problem” – well, I don’t know.  Define suitable and then we’ll talk.  F# is suitable for lots of stuff but if you need to build a solution on the JVM then no it’s probably not suitable.  If you need to interface with lots of native DLL’s on Windows, there may be more suitable approaches.  If you’d like very succinct, short code then probably Prolog is more suitable. This strikes me as a terrific example of an open-ended question.  Without additional context it’s impossible to give a definite answer. And the second part “are there any other implementations?”  Well, yes, I’d be willing to bet there are.  Which language?  Why do you want to see the code—I mean I doubt this is something for work so why do you want to study it?  Again, hard to answer without additional context.

To my mind the second sentence is rather an open-ended question no matter how you interpret it.  And the Stackoverflow FAQ pretty clearly asks people not to ask open-ended questions: “Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page”.  Now the FAQ is not the received word of God but it is a sort of contract that the people paying to run the site ask all of the users to honor.

Frankly I have to say that I’m a little disappointed with my fellow F# developers who seem to think that someone is going through and closing questions solely because they touch on F#.  It takes five votes to close a question—one person with a grudge is only 20% of the way there–and I don’t think implying that someone has a personal grudge against F# is really helpful or productive.

Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against open-ended discussion questions.  I do have a problem with people posting such questions on Stackoverflow when the people running the site have repeatedly asked members not to do so.

Now some of you reading this will think—fine delete the second sentence.  But that’s not quite the same thing as fixing a typo now is it?  If the original questioner would remove that second sentence I’m sure no one would be voting to close his question.  But that should be his decision.

As I say, I’ve got nothing against open-ended discussions—love them in fact.  But when someone provides a great service to me for free and they ask me to please avoid a certain behavior it seems a bit ungrateful for me not to avoid it.

And please fellow F# developers—dial down the paranoia a bit please?  Hypersensitivity to any whiff of anti-F# feeling isn’t really helping us to get the word out about a great language.