Hot Network Questions update

There was recently an update to the Hot Network Question feature announced on meta.stackexchange. The following section appears in that post (emphasis mine):

Moderators have the ability to remove questions from the HNQ List.

There are times when the hotness formula selects a question that a site would rather not have featured. Up until now, the only recourse that was available was to close the question (which may be appropriate anyway but isn't ideal when done purely to manage traffic), or to do nothing. We're putting the power in the hands of our moderators to remove questions that don't set a good example for their sites. I recommend each site have a meta discussion with guidance for moderators about when - if ever - a question should be removed.

So our question to the community is:

When, if ever, should a question be removed from the hot network questions list? What kinds of questions do not set a good example for our site?

Before you answer, consider the following points (also from the linked meta.stackexchange post that you may wish to read in its entirety):

Removing a question should not be a substitute for fixing it! Remember that it may take several hours for a moderator to respond to a flag so do what you can, first:

  • If the title seems click-baity or doesn't adequately describe the question, edit it!
  • If the body is full of spelling or grammatical errors, fix them!
  • If the body contains unnecessary detail or salacious content, see if it can be removed without impacting the question.
  • If the question is unclear or broad, vote to close it. In most cases it will be better to close a question and wait for it to be improved rather than asking for it to be removed.

This tool is a big gun and should be used sparingly. Don't reach for it if you think the question can be fixed.

To be clear

The purpose of mod-removal of HNQs is not because they're bad, or off-topic, or otherwise closeworthy—closing a question removes it from HNQ too. The purpose of mod-removal is to prevent HNQ from amplifying unwanted attention on topics that generate tedious repetitive controversy; argumentation based on popular folk wisdom/myths that lots of people have strong, wrong, and/or unfounded opinions about; etc.

Removing a question from HNQ leaves it open for crypto.se to discuss without inviting confused hordes from all over SE to trample on it.

Sister thread

As requested, there is now a separate thread for discussing "What do we want to see on the HNQ list?"

  • $\begingroup$ Is there a list of questions that were HNQs, so I can review which ones were exasperating? $\endgroup$ – Squeamish Ossifrage Mar 11 at 23:02
  • $\begingroup$ I believe that there is not - the linked meta post says "There's now a history event created the first time a post appears in the HNQ list. This allows us to see which questions have been featured..."; Coupled with this answer that says "This is brand new data that we're capturing, so we won't be able to go back in time and indicate this on posts throughout history, sorry." strongly implies that no, there is no way to acquire this information short of heuristic means (e.g. high view/vote count) $\endgroup$ – Ella Rose Mar 11 at 23:08
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe there should be a separate question for what we want to see in HNQ? There's presumably a large middle ground of questions that we have no opinion about seeing on HNQ, between those we definitely want off and those we might like to see amplified. $\endgroup$ – Squeamish Ossifrage Mar 12 at 2:52
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    $\begingroup$ @kelalaka See the comment immediately above yours. The quoted meta post ...recommend each site have a meta discussion with guidance for moderators about when - if ever - a question should be removed., and so this post was created. Keep in mind that a "what do we want to see on HNQ" thread cannot dictate that qualifying questions must/will become hot network questions, only that they would be eligible; There's no switch to say "This is now a hot network question", there is only a (new) switch to say "This is not/will not be a hot network question". $\endgroup$ – Ella Rose Mar 12 at 20:17
  • $\begingroup$ Partially answering myself: yes, you can search in the chat room that just has an HNQ feed: chat.stackexchange.com/search?q=crypto&room=89485 There are some false positives—questions on other sites that mention ‘crypto’—but it's good enough to get a sense. However, it only goes back to early February. $\endgroup$ – Squeamish Ossifrage Mar 13 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ questions which shown no effort of work such as Difference between RC2, RC4, RC5 and RC6 $\endgroup$ – hardyrama Apr 6 at 13:51

10 Answers 10


when it is about yet another bespoke hare-brained scheme to generate one-time pads

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    $\begingroup$ And, I believe we should set up a one-time pit. $\endgroup$ – kelalaka Mar 12 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ hare-brained like this? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ $\endgroup$ – AleksanderRas Mar 15 at 12:11

questions that are obviously homework

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    $\begingroup$ Maybe we should just be more aggressive about closing these questions, which does not prevent the typical practice of providing hints in the comments. $\endgroup$ – Squeamish Ossifrage Mar 12 at 0:39
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    $\begingroup$ I've never seen a question without an answer become HNQ. $\endgroup$ – kelalaka Mar 12 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ @kelalaka: ...and, as long as we're using the current hotness formula, you never will. Actually, unanswered questions are simply excluded from HNQ entirely, but even if they weren't, the formula is quite heavily influenced by the number of answers and their total vote count. $\endgroup$ – Ilmari Karonen Mar 12 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ @IlmariKaronen I was looking for this formula. Nice, thanks. $\endgroup$ – kelalaka Mar 12 at 21:59
  • $\begingroup$ @IlmariKaronen Today I've tested the formula and it is worked. $\endgroup$ – kelalaka Mar 15 at 18:16

questions about the definition of entropy

  • $\begingroup$ In truth, this is a prime candidate for HNQ. How else can we resolve the ongoing schism around it's definition/measurement? $\endgroup$ – Paul Uszak Apr 26 at 12:59
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    $\begingroup$ There's no schism. There's essentially one definition and it has been consistent and widely understood across multiple fields—from thermodynamics and statistical mechanics to probability theory and cryptography—since it was articulated over a century ago by Gibbs. $\endgroup$ – Squeamish Ossifrage Apr 26 at 13:45

Questions of the form:

[Assertion of a "fact" or definition that no one but the OP believes] [Second mostly untrue assertion that's based on incorrect definitions or abuse of vocabulary]

[LONG ramble about why those two assertions are contradictory and how everyone else MUST be wrong]

It may just be my pet peeve. These are questions that start from a conclusion, where the author is looking for only one answer. The downsides to these be ending up on the HNQ list are:

  • When the two premises aren't common misunderstandings, the question isn't really useful to anyone else.
  • These questions promote misinformation.
  • The question author often is very argumentative. Participating in long comment battles in solid answers from patient people... and ignoring good answers in general.
  • Uninformed StackExchange users will up-vote a provocative question, amplifying it and lending it the appearance of legitimacy.
  • It doesn't take many high-rep misinformed users to assure the author that he's actually right. (And to help him feel vindicated and double down on conspiracy theory.)
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    $\begingroup$ Can you give some examples? $\endgroup$ – Squeamish Ossifrage Mar 12 at 2:41
  • $\begingroup$ @SqueamishOssifrage I wish I could, but I can't remember the specifics of any one I've noticed. On the bright side it might not be realistic that such bad questions wouldn't get downvoted quickly enough to prevent them from actually ending up on the HNQ list. $\endgroup$ – Future Security Mar 12 at 2:44
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    $\begingroup$ Can you expand on how this fits into the niche between unclear what you're asking and inappropriate to invite HNQ hordes to trample on? $\endgroup$ – Squeamish Ossifrage Mar 12 at 2:45
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe I was thinking of the Mersenne Twister entropy question. I haven't thought of a second example yet. That and I realized I was probably mixing up examples I noticed across several websites. Questions like this might be pretty uncommon on this site $\endgroup$ – Future Security Mar 12 at 4:45
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure we get enough questions like this to make this a serious issue. And even if one does show up occasionally and manages to get on HNQ, at least the answers (which must exist, and be highly upvoted, for the question to have a chance get on HNQ) can serve to educate visitors and dispel the misinformation. But, that said, if there's any class of questions that we might want to use this feature on, this is probably it. So +1 for that. $\endgroup$ – Ilmari Karonen Mar 12 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ Non-example :) First statement is a common misconception. Second statement mostly coherent. Closing is short. Most importantly, getting more people to see it would be a net gain for the world. ... (But the tone of the question is similar and somewhat slightly mildly irritating.) $\endgroup$ – Future Security May 4 at 3:42

questions about generic statistical randomness tests or entropy estimators like the NIST suite or dieharder

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    $\begingroup$ In my anecdotal experience these questions invite tedious commentary lacking in insight about what randomness is, which tends to be associated with a misunderstanding of probability theory and of what the generic tests and estimators are in the first place, along with bespoke hare-brained schemes about one-time pads. Would the downvoter care to expand on why you think these should be eligible for HNQ? $\endgroup$ – Squeamish Ossifrage Mar 12 at 0:39
  • $\begingroup$ This suggestion should have more upvotes. For some reason such questions seem to attract low quality discussion on this site; often not even about cryptography, but just elementary notions of statistics such as hypothesis testing. $\endgroup$ – Aleph Mar 15 at 19:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Aleph It has plenty of upvotes, but unlike most of the other answers here it also has a downvote. One wonders whom the downvote might have come from, and whether that person might appear in many of those low-quality discussions. $\endgroup$ – Squeamish Ossifrage Mar 15 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ Don't wonder! Surprise, it was me! +3 isn't really 'plenty' is it, but I'll let you off. What's the problem with NIST? They're in charge of cryptography, so surely the NIST test suite must valid no? The great cryptographer Anton Chekhov said that “Only entropy comes easy” and he was obviously right. It's just the we can't measure it, aka Kolmogorov complexity. Censoring debate around this subject isn't going to advance the science. $\endgroup$ – Paul Uszak Nov 17 at 6:43
  • $\begingroup$ Nobody's censoring anything here. There are legitimate questions about what the NIST SP 800-22 ‘randomness testing’ and SP 800-90B ‘entropy estimation’ tools mean. But they have very little significance in cryptography despite common misapprehensions to the contrary. This question at hand is about what we want to hold up as exemplars, not what invites hot air full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. $\endgroup$ – Squeamish Ossifrage Nov 17 at 17:32

conspiracy theories about the NSA

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    $\begingroup$ I believe this is already off-topic. $\endgroup$ – kelalaka Mar 12 at 17:47

Probably none of them.

I'm not saying that it's impossible for a question to show up here which we might want to keep off the HNQ list (but not to close entirely), but I don't think such questions are at all common here. At least, I don't remember seeing any obvious examples of such questions here in the past.

Honestly, we're probably not one of the sites that this feature is really meant for. We're a fairly "hard" site with a clearly defined scope, and the questions we get (and don't close immediately) tend to have mostly objective answers. We're not particularly prone to the kind of "snowball effect" some sites can experience when their questions get on the HNQ list, where visitors from other sites post lots of bad answers and/or vote them up because they're not familiar with local norms on what constitutes a good answer (but think they are). And our questions and answers are usually safe for work.

While it's possible that one day we'll end up with a question that we might want to use this feature on, I think that in at least 99.9% of such cases our other, previously existing moderation tools (such as closing and protection, as well as just editing) should be more than sufficient. And if a question in that remaining 0.1% does show up, and if there's clear consensus among regulars here that it should indeed be taken off the HNQ list, then by all means let's do it. But let's worry about that if and when it actually happens, not before.


We should not play much when a question becomes an HNQ. I've asked a question in SecuritySE. The question became an HNQ around for three days. At the third day, this answer showed up. It was the most enlightening answer. I believe that without staying 3 days as a hot topic this answer wouldn't exist.


Some cryptocoin questions. Ones that don't qualify as off topic but also aren't interesting or useful because they have a trivial answer.

Assuming these actually end up on the HNQ list in the real world, they'd likely invite future off-topic or lazy cryptocoin questions.

  • $\begingroup$ Can you give some examples of ones that threaten to be HNQ? $\endgroup$ – Squeamish Ossifrage Mar 15 at 19:49

Questions about cracking classical encryption algorithms.

They aren't inherently bad and a few of these questions are welcome, but, as I see it, the purpose of this site is not to discuss code breaking. Classical cipher questions only feel on-topic when they can be used as a tool for learning how modern cryptography works.

Other issues:

  • These questions might not be useful to other readers. Some questions are basically proposals of new algorithms, where the author is playing a game of goal post moving. They're not interested in how classic attacks works.
  • Sometimes they're do-my-work-for-me questions. (Homework or break-my-friend's-code types.)
  • Sometimes they're debug, code review, or algorithm suggestion questions in disguise.
  • Outsiders feel they're capable of answering these questions (or providing suggestions), attracting repetitive answers from unqualified one-time contributors. (What normally happens with viral, easily answered hot network questions.)
  • The question could be a near-duplicate without actually qualifying as an exact duplicate that must be closed. (Questions which propose minor tweaks to an algorithm.)
  • Sometimes they're just twice-used one-time-pad questions.
  • $\begingroup$ Can we just redirect these to puzzling.se or something? $\endgroup$ – Squeamish Ossifrage Mar 12 at 2:40
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    $\begingroup$ @SqueamishOssifrage I don't think so. They're usually not very fun puzzles, so it might be kind of rude. And I can see puzzling.se redirected such questions here. $\endgroup$ – Future Security Mar 12 at 2:49
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    $\begingroup$ Reddit has the /r/codes community. I'm not sure what the community itself is like or what rules they have, but their description reads "Hiding data, cracking codes, finding hidden messages. We welcome posts that aren't as suitable for /r/crypto, such as basic cipher-cracking challenges and discussions of simple data hiding." $\endgroup$ – Future Security Mar 12 at 2:52
  • $\begingroup$ Got it—can we redirect these to reddit? $\endgroup$ – Squeamish Ossifrage Mar 12 at 2:53
  • $\begingroup$ I disagree because this sort of question can naturally lead to more complex questions having to do with modern cryptography. $\endgroup$ – Patriot Jul 20 at 11:20

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