Regarding this question: What was this SciFi story?

I have read a SciFi book a while ago, and would like to find the author.

The book featured two robots, who were seeking to find their owner so they could give him some sort of secret plan.

The owner, who resembled some sort of SciFi samurai, complete with futuristic sword, then had to deal with some whiny annoying farmer, and deliver the secret plan to a beautiful princess.

I think there were some space battles in the end.

It is obviously not entirely serious, but I find it amusingly clever. If it was tagged as or something similar, what would be the harm? I already see 3 VTCs and 6 downvotes, while really poor questions (I don't want to offend anybody by including links here) are upvoted and answered without hesitation. Is being serious so important?

Related: Why are moderators going against consensus on meta?

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    I think the problem here is that there are a lot of people who take themselves quite seriously and have no sense of humor.
    – Tango
    Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 16:49
  • @TangoOversway: Well, yes. That's what this "question" is about ;)
    – bitmask
    Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 16:52
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    Totally off topic to the question, but I couldn't resist: "WHY SO SERIOUS?!?!" Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 17:06
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    Helps to remember that April Fool's day isn't celebrated everywhere and isn't celebrated the same way everywhere either. And some folks, including me, completely forget about the day every single year until we are tricked. I suspect some of the troll votes came from people who completely forgot what day it is.
    – Kyle Jones
    Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 19:15
  • Related: I asked a similar question over at Christianity SE and got some interesting answers - and a pretty clear consensus. Commented Apr 3, 2012 at 20:03
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    Also related: blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/04/joke-questions-please-refrain. Far as network guidance/policy goes, joke questions for the sake of joking are discouraged at best. But there's nothing wrong with real questions phrased in humorous ways.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Apr 4, 2012 at 1:39
  • @AdamLear this wasn't a real question though, it was a joke question for the sake of a day we don't celebrate in most of the world.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Apr 1 at 14:00

5 Answers 5


I didn't recognize it as Star Wars until I saw it mentioned, and I don't see why you are all calling the poster a troll.

Wikipedia defines a troll thusly:

In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

Let's see now. Inflammatory? No. Extraneous? It seems the poster did know the answer, but knowing the answer is, on SE, not in itself reason enough to not post. Off-topic? Story ID questions are clearly established as on-topic here, and it's a valid story-ID question, even if he did know the answer. Does the primary intent seem to be to evoke an emotional response? I don't see any evidence of that. It's phrased as just another question. Is it trying to disrupt normal, on-topic conversation? I don't see how that would apply to a new question, especially a valid one.

Now, more to the point. Closing this as "Not a Real Question" is just plain wrong. It clearly is a valid question (and more detailed than many of our story ID questions). The only potential close reason I see for this is "Not Constructive." Asking for identification of a popular story when the asker already knows the answer doesn't help anyone now and isn't likely to help anyone in the future. Also note that we have had a question like this (and accompanying discussion) once before, when DVK asked What fantasy story elicited this quote?. I don't see a difference between the two; both clearly on-topic questions, but about well-known works and the askers both knew the answer before posting, so we should treat them the same - they should both be left open, or they should both be closed as not constructive.

So, our first course of action should be to re-open this question. Then, if the community decides we want to reject story identification questions where the asker knows the answer, they should both be closed as not constructive.

  • I agree. There are still two votes missing, though.
    – bitmask
    Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 23:48
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    I agree, the not constructive label is better suited than the "Not a Real Question". Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 2:20
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    Extraneous? Yes. True, asking a question you know the answer to is allowed on SE, but crafting an obscure description of a well-known story is not the same as giving your own solution to a technical question. Primary intent? If DVK is correct (although he hasn't met his own standard of iron-clad proof), then the intent was to make people laugh, not to provide information. Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 5:25
  • Without being able to see the wording of the deleted question, I may disagree that it is the same as DVK's Wizard of Oz question. The salient point of the Wizard of Oz question was that it contained, at its heart, a quotation from a notable (local) reviewer. I voted to reopen that question. I'm not sure I would vote to reopen the Star Wars question (although I can't say for sure without seeing it in its entirety).
    – Beofett
    Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 14:54
  • I don't care the wording with which this kind of questions get closed as long as they do get closed. "Not constructive" suits me fine, but does it still exist as a close reason here?
    – Andres F.
    Commented Apr 1 at 21:02

I'm obviously biased since I was the first to figure out the puzzle and answer it.

It seems that the only fault behind this question is that it's a little bit too obvious what the answer is to a large set of people. That is NOT a valid reason to close.

I can say that ("too obvious") about a LOT of the questions here - am I within my right to DW and close any identification question about a well known work ("West of Eden", which we have 3 of IIRC) that seems obvious to me? Or any Harry Potter questions that are fully trivial to anyone who read the books carefully?

As bitmask said, it was a clever and harmless question, full on topic by any and all definitions of the site. Anyone who votes to close or down-votes should explain publicly how exactly it harms the site or violates the ontopic rules.

Unlike some random "identify this poorly worded and awfully defined" so-called story identification questions that are little more than guessing games (as evidenced by the numerous guessing answers), this one was very precisely and cleverly worded, allowing - as you can see from my answer - to provide the answer independently from 3 different clues, very unambiguously.

A troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, ..., with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

Moreover, I asked on English.SE and they confirmed that troll must imply negative intent.

Posting a clever April 1st question that's completely harmless fits none of the above definition. I'm up-voting it and will vote to re-open and flag to do if it gets it closed.

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    Good points. But -- What about non-April-1st questions of that sort? What about the quiz (or similar) tag?
    – bitmask
    Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 17:25
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    I respectfully disagree with your characterization of the commenter as a "humorless" "deep ignoramus", which is a pretty serious insult for someone who was following rules by explaining his downvote. Humor is hard to capture and sometimes people just don't share the same sense of it. Personally I thought the question was clever. Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 17:36
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    It's ironic that you take your "humor" so seriously. Humorless, anonymous grinches... ignoramus? Must provide "iron-clad proof of intent"? This is not the first and probably won't be the last of this type of bogus story id question. Others have been closed and deleted on the basis that they're bad questions, the fact that it's April 1st shouldn't give this one a free pass. Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 18:03
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    Let's turn it around: you post some iron-clad proof that this was intended as an April Fool's joke. Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 18:05
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    I have no problem with April Fools questions, TAGGED AS SUCH, even if it's after the fact.. But if it's not, then you are looking at a carefully obfuscated question being asked where no real question is intended. It's funny. It' entertaining.. But it's not a real question; it's someone being clever -- hence my vote to close. Just my 2c. Incidentally, I mentioned it as a possible troll in chat only to have Giles mention that it was April 1st; I don't think it's a troll now, just someone being clever.. But I still can't see it as a real question.
    – K-H-W
    Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 20:45
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    @dvk - No. Not because it's obvious to me.. But because the questioner already knows the answer. The site isn't meant for witty repartee for all that it's entertaining. It's meant for actual questions and answers; I LIKE the question, but it's not an actual question -- it's someone playing around; I'm all for play, but it needs flagged or something as what it is. It's an 'in-joke' to most of us. I like it. But to me, it belongs in Chat.
    – K-H-W
    Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 21:45
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    @Ward - I apologize for meanness, "ignoramus" was too strong but I replied to your answer explaining why I said that. As to why you're wrong re: "bogusness", see Kevin's answer, he put it a lot better than me. As far as my proof it was an April Fool's joke, that's easy. Look at the name of the poster and my parsing of it in my answer. THAT alone shows positive intent. It was a clever play. Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 21:46
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    @KeithHWeston - see Kevin's answer, but "But because the questioner already knows the answer" was already hashed out y the commmunity and agreed that it was NOT EVEN REMOTELY a valid reason to label something as a bad or offtopic question. Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 21:47
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    @dvk - Got a link to the discussion on questions the questioner already knows? I'd be fascinated to read that one; it goes against what seems to make sense to me.. Which could easily mean that I'm full of it, so I'd love to see how that conclusion arrived :) To me, it violates the "You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face." rule from the FAQ, but perhaps I'm missing something.
    – K-H-W
    Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 22:31
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    @KeithHWeston - meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/1196/… ; after reading that, I would appreciate it if you agree to flag it for re-opening Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 1:12
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    It's one thing to have a passionate defense of a post, but personally attacking people who disagree with you is out of line.
    – user366
    Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 7:04
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    @DVK I await your iron-clad proof that I'm humorless, a grinch, and a deep ignoramus. I'd also like to see where in the definition of "troll" (the definition that you pointed to as definitive) it says anything about malice or nefarious intent. Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 9:39
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    @Ward - english.stackexchange.com/questions/62984/… . Are you finally gonna admit that you were wrong in using the "troll" word? Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 14:06
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    @DVK "consensus" generally requires more than two people, you have yourself and one other person agreeing with you on your English.SE question. OTOH, Wikipedia doesn't mention the word malicious at all: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_(Internet) And if you pay close attention to the etymology, you'll see statements like "Commonly, what is meant is a relatively gentle inside joke" Or this one: straightdope.com/columns/read/1764/what-is-a-troll Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 16:25
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    Anyway, I obviously wouldn't have kept going at this if I didn't find it somewhat amusing, but it gets tiresome dealing with someone who's inconsistent and mostly interested in name-calling. You can chalk this one up as a win. Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 16:29

Whether a question is humorous or not doesn't affect whether it's off-topic. I agree that this question is not off-topic. But it qualifies as “not a real question”, because (as DVK even points out in his answer) it is not a question but a puzzle: the asker obviously know the answer, and an artificial story identification question is not interesting, it's not what somebody remembered but what somebody chose to reveal.

It's now April 2nd, this question has outlived any usefulness it could have.


I already see 3 VTCs and 6 downvotes, while really poor questions (I don't want to offend anybody by including links here) are upvoted and answered without hesitation. Is being serious so important?

First of all, you're assuming that the question was intended to be humorous, that's not a given. This isn't the first story id question where someone has posted a vague description of a well-known story or move.

You're also assuming that people voted to close and downvoted because they didn't approve of the humor. That's far from clear. The only comment was mine, suggesting that the post was troll. I'm apparently too much of an ignoramus to discuss whether it might have been trolling or not, so I can't address that.

Finally, the fact that other (bad) questions didn't get the same treatment is irrelevant. The same people don't vote on all posts, so this one on a slow day happened to get people who think it's a bad question, those other questions on other days got people looking at them who thought they were ok.

  • 1
    there's a major distinction between labeling something a bad question (like Keith did below), which is a difference of opinions, and labeling something as a troll - which is instead a judgement on someone's character by insinuating malicious intent. So you are either (1) ignorant of the distinction, (2) or are slandering an innocent person on purpose, or (3) have proof that it was posted with malicious intent. In the absense of #3 as per my request, I prefer to think it's #1 which is less offensive in a person, since you can easily cure ignorance by educating, as I did. Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 21:39
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    Mind you, the "ignoramus" was a tad too strong and I apologize for being mean - but this use of "troll" to shut down people you merely disagree with is a major pet peeve of mine. Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 21:41
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    Just because you flip out over the use of the word troll, doesn't mean everyone else thinks it's such a horrible thing to say. (It's ironic that you think "troll" is terrible, but "humourless anonymous grinch" and "deep ignoramus" are ok.) Furthermore, using your own definition, it was a troll: it was an extraneous question (he knew the answer, the point of the question was to be an obscure description of a well-known story) designed to elicit an emotional response: laughter. I feel like much less of an ignoramus now. Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 5:39
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    @DVK You have a serious issue with hypocrisy: I said "troll, I believe." And you consider that "trying to shut down" a one-off poster? That's about as mildly negative a comment as it's possible to make. You OTOH feel free to call me a humourless anonymous grinch and a deep ignoramus and that's not trying to shut me down? (It's also factually wrong, since posts and comments do have a name connected to them.) As I said in another comment, you need to be less serious about your attitude towards humor... Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 6:15
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    did you bother reading the rest of the thread? Knowing the answer in advance is NOT "extraneous" to the site as per community consensus. And if you seriously and honestly think that anyone ever used the word troll in a context of designing to rise a chuckle on April 1st, you're in deep need of a language lesson, as I originally said. Troll always implies NEGATIVE intent. Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 9:23
  • It's funny that you find it so abhorrent to call someone a troll but you think nothing of flinging insults left and right. "in deep need of a language lesson" How about a language lesson where you show me where in the definition of troll that you brought forward it says anything about malicious or negative intent? Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 9:59
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    "One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument" (source: Urban dictionary). Not even a mention of April 1st positive type emotions Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 10:29
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    Just to confirm that the connotation wasn't something I made up: english.stackexchange.com/questions/62984/… Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 14:06
  • Ok, good, you're admitting that there's nothing in the definition that you said was the definition of troll (and that I was a deep ignoramus for not knowing by heart) about malice. Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 14:18

Humorous question aren't banned per se, but I would like to take some issue with the question asked.

I believe that any story identification which the user knows the answer to the question should not be allowed. It's not always obvious that it is the case, but I do believe it's a waste of space if the user knows. Also, it was obvious from the question that the user knew the answer to the question.

Secondly, this type of question is discouraged on all SE sites. The best reference I can find is the semi-recent blog post, the Problem with Popularity. Specifically, I'll quote this part from near the end.

This is why community moderators have real power; they need that power to intervene, educate, and refocus the community’s exuberance on more substantive content. People will fight you almost literally to the death over their right to be entertained, and to entertain others:

Why can’t you just not look at these fun posts? Why do they have to be deleted? You guys suck!

The same reason the moderators and community on that subreddit didn’t decide to “not look” at the fun posts, really:

Broken windows. Every ‘fun’ post users see is an open invitation for them to participate in the fun by adding their own fun question or answer. The stuff spreads like kudzu! Pretty soon the entire site is overrun with nothing but that kind of fun. And even if you grandfather a few in, you’ll enjoy neverending requests asking why their fun question or answer has to be removed, while this one over here is allowed to remain.

Opportunity cost. Every minute spent participating in an entertaining ‘fun’ post is time that someone could have spent asking or answering a substantive question, something practical that solves an actual problem for hundreds or thousands of people. Entertainment, within reason, is by no means a bad thing — but I experience almost physical pain when I think about a brilliant topic expert spending 10 minutes on one of our sites deciding which hilarious cartoon is their favorite.

  • 5
    Actually, your implication is not valid. SO specifically encourages you to ask questions even if you already know the answer, and even if you answer your question yourself, as long as you can pretend not to know the answer (it calls it "Jeopardy-style" questions, if memory serves). Regarding your point about entertainment: This site is about entertainment! If you take that blog post seriously you'd have to delete every single question.
    – bitmask
    Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 2:10
  • @bitmask: The format doesn't encourage riddle type questions, but does encourage asking questions you know the answer to. I felt like the question in question was more of a riddle type. However, questions such as the E.T./Star Wars is an example of a good question that the asker probably knew. Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 2:16
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    @Pearsonartphoto - re: ET/SW, I am almost certain the asker didn't know the full breadth and depth of information I added to the answer, which is what made the answer so great as opposed to a mere "yes"</vanity> Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 2:36

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