In my job as a poet for a national newspaper I am rarely faced with ethical decisions. However, today was quite a challenge…

The editor came to me this morning and said, “Hey, I’ve heard about this website – they call it the Puzzling Stock Exchange or something…”

Stack Exchange,” I corrected him, a little too quickly. He narrowed his eyes a little.

“So you know it?”

I did my best to backtrack. “Only very slightly – pretty sure I’ve heard of it somewhere… maybe just overheard someone… on the bus…” My voice tailed off.

“Right,” continued the editor. “Well, it seems this Puzzling Haystack Exchange is a website where people with nothing better to do go and create puzzles for other people to solve. I mean, is that crazy or what? Who are these people? Why do they do this?!”

He guffawed heartily. I glanced all around and forced out a laugh. “Ha, yeah – who are they…? I don’t know, that’s for sure…” I closed my laptop shut so he couldn’t see the screen.

“Right! So here’s the thing.” He scooched right up next to me, so close I could smell his breath. “I want today’s poem to be about this website, about what a terrible idea it is, how it’s a complete waste of time. I need it by 5pm, okay?” With that he left my office.

With a gulp, I re-opened my laptop. The PSE Questions page was still open in my browser. How was I going to do this?? I needed this job – it pays me well – but could I really sell out something I genuinely loved?! I mulled this over for more than half of the time I had been allotted to write the poem…

Then it hit me. I finally knew what I had to write – something which appeared to criticise the site, like my editor wanted, but which at the same time actually served to put across my own opinions about it too.

This is what I wrote:

Puzzles are stupid and pointless!
So don’t con yourself that
They’re good for your brain
Scientists say
They serve no real purpose
It’s flawed logic to argue that
The opposite is true
Let nobody tell you
“Solving obscure and difficult puzzles is just good fun!”
What is the point of it all?
Any other activity
Is more enjoyable than
Spending one’s time thinking up brainteasers and cracking other people’s codes
Those riddles and connecting walls
Those anagrams and cryptic clues
Oh, how I delight in
Pouring down scorn on these
There are many who think their time is well spent
Decrypting ciphers, spotting patterns or thinking laterally
I, for one, enjoy spending my waking hours
Doing other things
I have no desire to be
Part of this puzzling community
I feel
It has no real purpose
So stop harping on about how
It’s inspiring to see what other users create
PSE is a drain on productivity
Don’t jump to the conclusion that
Contributing to this website brings great benefits

My editor was delighted and put it straight in to the day’s edition without looking harder at it. Perhaps you can spot what I managed to smuggle past him?

Given that this is the poem I submitted, how have I managed to express my own thoughts and views on PSE?

Post-script: Now that this puzzle has been solved, I can gladly declare that although the poem is a Stiv original, the concept was actually inspired by two other poems I came across online: Refugees by Brian Bilston, and (the poem which initially inspired that one) The Lost Generation by Jonathan Reed. I find both of these not just impressive for their structure but very powerful in their messages - they're worth a read!

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ It's a clever piece of prose, but this sucks as poetry :-( $\endgroup$
    – Strawberry
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Strawberry It's poetic justice :P $\endgroup$
    – Paul Evans
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ Are you familiar with rot13("Töqry, Rfpure, Onpu" ol Qbhtynf Ubsfgnqgre)? There's a section in there with a very similar format... $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 17:04
  • $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman No, I'm not - worth a look? $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 17:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yeah, there's some pretty wild stuff in there. In particular, there's a section I think called "Crab Canon" (based on a musical form J.S. Bach played around with which applies the same concept to sheet music) which reads very much like this, though it's written more like a stage-play rather than a poem. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 17:24

1 Answer 1


You've expressed your views by

making a poem that can be read backwards, line-by-line, to create a positive message rather than a negative one.

"Contributing to this website brings great benefits. Don’t jump to the conclusion that PSE is a drain on productivity. It’s inspiring to see what other users create, so stop harping on about how it has no real purpose. [...] "

(And as prompted in the comments: your real views are...)

...quite the reverse of what the poem says.

  • $\begingroup$ BOOM! Exactly right. Are you able to give a pithy 2/3 word phrase to sum it up in the sense of "Although this is what the poem says my own views are...WORD-WORD-WORD"? Quick work! $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Stiv Is this the phrase you're looking for? $\endgroup$
    – Deusovi
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 19:51
  • $\begingroup$ Beautiful! Just adds a little flourish :) The green checkmark is yours... +1 too $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Commented Jul 16, 2019 at 20:19

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