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    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeNov 27th 2011 edited
    There are two questions today about the same Project Euler question.

    which Noam found out was

    I would like to repeat my claim, from an earlier such episode, that P.E. problems are intended to stay within that sphere of people, and not posted on MO. One of the askers pointed out that P.E. was intended to be a learning experience, so I suggested that he read some books. Meanwhile, they are not particularly mathematics problems as such, and are certainly not research mathematics, rather an invitation to computer programming.
    Evidently. I had a look at the PE site and couldn't find anything about the intentions of the people running it regarding a sphere containing the problems. If one of their problems leads someone to something of research interest, I have no problem with seeing it on MO.

    However, the PE people do insist that people mentioning their problems elsewhere give an attribution, and I'm ready to close as spam any problem posted on MO that doesn't do that.
    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeNov 27th 2011 edited
    Gerry, perhaps you have found the idea that ought to dominate. I'm not going to be able to find the article I noticed about this, but it seems that students (caught plagiarizing from some internet source for an essay) these days do not always understand that they have done anything wrong...I did find this,

    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeNov 27th 2011 edited
    Well, I registered on Project Euler. I see no way to contact the founders, but there is this note at the bottom of the questions list page:

    Quotation from a Project Euler page:

    "NOTE: Please do not contact Project Euler if you are unable to solve a particular problem. If you can't solve it, then you can't solve it! "

    I also found a nice article, link from Wikipedia, anyway

    The Atlantic article gives a fairly compelling picture of intent, that students are expected to work through the whole set of P.E. problems themselves, rather than farm out the tricky parts to experts.

    Also this:
    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeNov 27th 2011

    What I found was their copyright page .

    Essentially starting:

    It is not only granted but it is encouraged for material to be shared and used freely for non-profit making purposes. But please read on...

    So it seems they have no problem in principle.

    Now reading on one finds:

    Not for commercial purpose (non issue on MO) and then

    Do I need to show attribution? This issue is more a matter of courtesy. You are entirely at liberty to use the material as it is or adapt it. If you choose to use the content as it appears on the website you could say something like, "The following problem is taken from Project Euler." If you modify the problem then you could say something like, "The following problem was inspired by Problem xxx at Project Euler."

    Technically it seems to be licensed by some CC license (more precisely BY-NC-SA).

    So, the license requires attribution but the way they write the text is rather soft (more a matter of courtesy). IANAL but to take one isolated problem work a bit on it and ask a rephrased form somewhere else might well qualify as fair use. (It wasn't even a copy paste thing.)

    Would it be a case of academic dishonesty or a copyright problem if somebody works on a problem written in some paper, or perhaps closer an excercise in a text book, works on it a bit, and asks a rephrased form on MO without mentioning the paper or book? (Not that I think it is a good idea, but IMO it's not academic dishonesty.)

    Whether it is a good MO question, is something else, but regarding academic honesty or copyright I see little problem here.

    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeNov 27th 2011 edited
    Hi, Quid.

    I was able to send a request for clarification to James Somers, the author of the Atlantic Magazine article about P.E. I don't think P.E. envisioned participants asking a website full of mathematics professors for shortcuts to their questions. Indeed, PE seems to have begun in 2001, MO in 2009.
    Maybe he will forward something to Colin Hughes of PE, maybe not.

    From you and Gerry, the issue for MO users is the interest level of the question, as long as attribution is proper.

    Quoted from

    I solved it by using a search engine, does that matter?

    Making use of the internet to research a problem is to be encouraged as there could be hidden treasures of mathematics to be discovered beneath the surface of many of these problems. However, there is a fine line between researching ideas and using the answer you found on another website. If you photocopy a crossword solution then what have you achieved?
    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeNov 27th 2011

    Hi Will,

    I did not see your edits before I wrote my comment, but that 'NOTE' you give, not sure how to read it. I'd rather read it as 'We have no time for this.' as opposed to 'We think it would be unethical.'

    I just googled 'project euler solutions' lots of things to find; I did not follow up in detail, but apparently some people even set up worldreadable repositories to download sample code.

    That blog post is interesting:

    In particular it contains a quote from some PE FAQs (from 2009, not sure if or where they are still around).

    I solved it by using a search engine, does that matter? That depends on your motivation for solving the problems. It probably means that you’ve missed out on some beautiful and hidden mathematics.

    Does not suggest they are overly concerned about this issue. But, it is true some commenters there were unhappy.

    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeNov 27th 2011
    Hello, quid. The block quote you give is also at

    while the NOTE was at the very bottom of after problem number 50
    • CommentAuthor000
    • CommentTimeNov 27th 2011
    Hi. I asked the second question which was closed. I just wanted to apologize. Even though I read the info page clearly I misinterpreted the purpose of this website. I am not doing research. On the other hand, I did not intend for anyone to solve the problem for me at all. Project Euler in fact has its own forum where members are encouraged to post questions or concerns. Looking for insights on that forum is totally acceptable. In hindsight, I probably should have posted there, so I apologize for all the strife that I have caused over this issue.
    • CommentAuthorDP
    • CommentTimeNov 27th 2011 edited
    And I was the first, and I too apologize. The reason why I did not immediately "attribute" PE in my post (although I did in 000's post, by referring to it as "PE") is because I didn't want it showing up on search engines so easily (some people complain about PE solutions/spoilers being too easy to find when people conduct Google searches).

    PE is just a site people do for fun. They're mathematical/programming challenges. Some people are "purists" and try to solve them without any help whatsoever, while others need some extra pushing in order for them to learn a concept better. Not everyone learns best by being tossed into a shark tank and told to learn to swim (Will Jagy, rather dismissively, told me to "read some books" and yet would not tell me which books I should read, when further inquired). PE is a great place for learning about programming and mathematics, and like 000 said, there are plenty of forums and sites and blogs where members are encouraged to talk about problems (without posting answers or code/code output, of course).

    I was not looking for someone to simply solve the problem for me (and it was clear that 000 wasn't after this, either). The problem clearly involves certain mathematical concepts, and I don't think it's plagiarism or academically dishonest to seek advice/help on relevant topics when the sole purpose is to get on the right track for a site that's purely for fun. The staff at PE have that "NOTE" there simply to say "Don't bother us with emails and questions." The PE staff just don't want people posting answers, but that is a far cry from asking how certain mathematical concepts are done. It's the equivalent of getting mad at someone because they want to play their favorite video game with a walkthrough for a particularly tough section of the game instead of spending hours and hours failing, getting frustrated, and quitting. Like I said, it's about learning. Even if I had every single PE problem solved, there's no award or gain for it. The only person you cheat is yourself if you're simply after someone else to solve your problem. I wasn't looking for that. I wanted to learn more about the concept because there isn't a whole lot of literature out there (I've Googled everything about integral lattice points on spheres and Pythagorean quads and found little of use).

    Now, it's clear I misunderstood the purpose of MO, and I apologize for that. I just assumed it was a math site where people could ask math questions -- it wasn't immediately obvious that it was a site full of professors geared towards research questions (especially when I see stuff like this that seems like a math question no different from the nature of the math question I asked or 000 asked).

    Anyways, apologies for any disruptions, otherwise.
    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeNov 27th 2011 edited
    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeNov 28th 2011 edited
    I got a reply from an administrator at Project Euler, but posted on their I don't appear to have permission to paste anything, so I can just paraphrase by saying that they really, really do not want people posting their questions. They do make a distinction between people who have put in time and effort and then gotten stuck, as opposed to those who do nothing at all and ask for help. The administrator was also disgusted that this happened within 24 hours of the problem being posted there.

    So, from the point of view of MO, these are questions for which a complete answer is known. They are not research, they are closer to homework for a well-designed self-study course in programming and mathematical thinking. Background material that might be required for answering a question is typically available in earlier questions. Furthermore, as programming is always a component, insight into the problems ought also to be found by running computer programs on easier test cases.

    So, finally, we ought not to answer or give hints.

    I was also pointed to this:
    referring to questions there such as
    Good hunting, Will!
    • CommentAuthorquid
    • CommentTimeNov 28th 2011

    Hi Will,

    I am impressed by the effort you put into this. While I maintain that this is neither a case of academic dishonesty nor plagiarism not even close to the two, I'd say if the people running this thing do not want this we should respect it/support it. (However they might consider mentioning this a bit more prominently or explicitly. I did not sign up or anything but I can still see all the questions, and no information suggesting to me this ever could be a problem.)

    To DW and 000: Thanks for your efforts in explaining the situation!

    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeNov 28th 2011
    Thanks, Gerry.

    Quid, there is nothing on P.E. relating to publishing in our sense. After reading the Atlantic article, my image is that of a home-study course. Online classes are far more prevalent in the U.K. than in the U. S., and I recall there are even some Ph.D. granting programs there that do get some respect.

    So I have this picture of a really elementary course, lovingly crafted by a British mathematics teacher, with no apparent textbook, rather 360 problems to be solved in sequence. The problems vary in difficulty, but they are meant to be attempted in order, as concepts are addressed in a certain order. We have all taught this way. After a student turns in a correct final answer (I suspect all answers are submitted as single numbers or some sort of alphanumeric string), they get to read and participate in a very wide-ranging discussion of methods involving all others who have solved the problem.

    So, there is no final examination for PE, but we have a version of two students trying to get significant hints on, say, a final project. There is also the aspect of video games, there is a reward system that includes "levels" as in video games. So one might also say we have two kids trying to get the best score on a video game.

    Well, I am cheating here myself, I did not get permission to paste this here, this is a second post by a PE administrator known as hk, after 000 tried to defend his acts:

    "However, the creators have a strong opinion on those that start pestering others to solve their problems and I hope I made that opinion clear enough."

    @Gerry - heh, I read your comment back-to-front. Was that intentional?

    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeNov 28th 2011
    Wait, to get the movie you transpose the second and third words.

    Yes, I know. Just sloppy english.

    @David, there are no accidents.
    • CommentAuthorWill Jagy
    • CommentTimeNov 29th 2011 edited
    I asked the administrator "hk" at Project Euler for contact by email, as I felt that I had intruded on their Meta page enough, called evidently. He gave a careful analysis. The heart of that is "inductive self learning," something for which we usually lack time in lecture courses. He said to google that phrase, and gave the first entry he got that way, by Prince and Felder about engineering education.

    He confirms that PE does want its participants both to learn background by doing earlier problems, as well as break down big problems into little ones, and experiment with easier cases. They do not want their participants asking for help elsewhere.
    • CommentAuthorstuartj
    • CommentTimeJan 27th 2014

    The "inductive self learning" paper Will Jagy refers to can now be found at: