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This question is partly for fun, but partly serious.

As a fictional example, suppose that someone asks a question like the following (the motivation part omitted for simplicity):

I would like to make pumpkin fries which are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. What is an algorithm for that?

Tag: [ds.algorithms]

(This question is based on a real question on Food and Cooking Stack Exchange. By the way, from my personal experience, I strongly discourage you to visit that website when you are hungry.)

It is outright off-topic on our website, right? After all, it is a question about cooking, not in the theoretical computer science. But this question is clearly asking for an algorithm. Although its goal is not to compute any mathematical objects and it is usually called a recipe, these do not mean that it is not an algorithm. “It cannot be implemented on computers or Turing machines” does not sound like a good reason that it is not an algorithm, either.

“Well,” you might say, “even if the question is about algorithms, it is too vague for a question in the theoretical computer science. How do you define ‘pumpkin fries,’ ‘crispy’ and ‘soft’? Oh, and you speak of the outside and inside. Do you mean that pumpkin fries lie in a topological space?”

However, if we think this way, it starts to sound as if we should close it as “not a real question” or “subjective and argumentative,” not as off topic.

I am still pretty sure that the question is off topic, but I find it more difficult than I thought to define when a question is about algorithms, especially because I believe that it is correct to say that a cooking recipe is an algorithm.

Question. What are the criteria to call some question “a question about algorithms,” and are questions asking for cooking recipes “about algorithms” according to your criteria?

What made me think about this is the recent question asking how to verify someone’s claim that analog sound is better than digital sound. I removed the [ds.algorithms] tag from it and voted to close it as off topic, and it soon got closed. But I have just realized that the question was asking for an algorithm. Now I wonder how to justify the claim that this question is off topic.

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  • $\begingroup$ I personally use the following criteria: is it interesting for a computer scientist as a computer scientist? (as it can be interesting to a computer scientists for other reasons.) $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Sep 28 '10 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ Even more obnoxiously, could the recipe question also get tagged upper-bounds and lower-bounds? $\endgroup$ – Colin McQuillan Oct 26 '10 at 8:59
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If the question is about computer algorithms, then it is about algorithms. If it concerns cooking, then, as far as this site is concerned, it falls outside of our interests.

As for the question about analog vs digital sound, there could be a computer science question hiding in there somewhere, although the answer should probably come from a sound engineer or signal processing person. Had the question been asked in a different way, it may have received different responses.

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In my blog, Algorithms for the Kitchen, I discuss a related topic. I believe a blog is a better place for this kind of questions.

I hope this answer will be interpreted as a reference and not as a spam message. In case it violates the terms of meta.cstheory, I am ready to delete it.

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