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When creating puzzles, I often find that the difficulty is difficult to estimate. Some puzzles seem to be "too difficult" to be solved without any hints (as in, the person who is supposed to solve the puzzle gives up after several tries because none of their approaches worked. At other times, a puzzle seems to easy when it is solved immediately.

Of course, experience of the person plays a huge role in estimating difficulty. A person who has a lot of experience with word-based puzzles will be able to solve those kinds of puzzles blazingly fast than a puzzle based on geometry.

Hints are supposed to make the puzzle more accessible to newcomers. They allow people who are "stuck" to potentially see a different angle, while people familiar with those puzzles can challenge themselves to solving it without hints.

However, I noticed that some hints, just like some puzzles, are terrible. Some of the worst offenders are:

  • The "hint" that is actually the solution.
  • The "hint" that, even when knowing the solution, makes absolutely no sense.
  • The "hint" that states the obvious. (E.g. rephrases the question)

As such, I would like to ask what makes a good hint?


Small note: I am aware that rephrasing the question can sometimes be useful, as it allows you see the question from a new angle. My idea for a hint that states the obvious is a hint such as "Think carefully what the solution can be".

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  • $\begingroup$ To write a good hint you should also know how not to write a hint; see the various answers to this question for some practical advice on that front. $\endgroup$ – Rubio Jun 15 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ Has a useful answer been given? If so, please don't forget to $\color{green}{\checkmark \small\text{Accept}}$ it :) $\endgroup$ – Rubio Jun 19 at 12:03
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Simply put, a hint should give you more information than you already have. As you say, though, a hint that simply gives the solution isn't a good one, but that doesn't mean a hint can't give too much information. It just means a hint can't give you the information you want.

As an example, this is what I would probably consider to be the best hint on the site (at least from what I've seen). It's very unexpected, but it causes you to come at the puzzle from a different angle. It stimulates your brain and makes you consider entirely new things you may not have been thinking of before. After all, people who believe they're on the right track probably don't need a hint, right? Your hints should cater to those who are totally stuck.

Hints should do something to reveal the nature of your puzzle. They should clue the user in to what they have to do in order to start solving it (or a step of it), not the specifics of how to do so.

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