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So let's just repeat what was posted under Odd Pair 53 in the Sets section:
The currently displayed ratings are: Easy < Mild < Moderate < Tricky < Hard < Fiendish
Players can rate puzzles easy, moderate or hard and the others above are based on equal division of the ratings count into sixths once it is averaged. In fact I think it's clear I should bias this to make the easy band narrower and the hard band wider.
Until several months ago puzzles were rated on a scale of 1 to 10, but 99% of users never selected anything other than 1, 2 or 3 when rating a puzzle - or occasionally 10. The 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 were not used, essentially. So I simplified it to easy, moderate, hard.
Other sites such as Youtube have switched to an even simpler "good" or "bad" (thumbs up/thumbs down, for example) - it turns out the only way to get useful ratings is to make the choice very simple and then use the maths of it to work out what it really means on the basis of many people choosing.
There is definitely a big psychological part in the easy/moderate/hard selection that varies depending on the player, before you even consider varying experience and expectations. (And of course relative difficulties depend on what you're comparing against too).
One thing would be to try pictures instead of words, e.g. stars or happy/unhappy faces - but it isn't obvious what the best choice would be. Stars really need a caption, so if you label 1 star easy and 3 stars hard that hasn't helped; and faces may not be so clear in meaning.
Any ideas, anyone?
With stars I would feel that I rate the puzzle based on how much I liked it, instead of how hard it was. The named rating helps everyone, to see what is the rating about.
In terms of difficulty, the average sudoku puzzle has actually got harder over the past year after I allowed them to include slightly tougher logic - perhaps you have got better at solving them too? :) On the other hand there are more smaller puzzles.
If there were three ratings, not on a drop-down menu, all in a row: Easy - Medium - Hard ...and you had to click on one to highlight it, I wonder if that would change things. It's possible some people just select the first option since it's the quickest way they know to get the 'Close window' link to appear.
If I require aids and multiple do-overs then it is hard. Rating a puzzle hard is painful for anyone who is very competitive.
Sometimes the type of puzzle influences my rating. Kakuro is generally very simple for me, so if a puzzle proves challenging I will rate it as hard. Slitherlink, for reasons I still don't get, usually confounds me and I nearly always use aids. I won't rate a Slitherlink as hard because I figure it is "just me." If I do one without aids then it is easy.
I take time to solve into consideration mainly if I worked on the puzzle continuously. For most puzzles where I see average times greater than ten minutes, I work on the puzzle a bit at a time, put it in the background, and work on other tasks until I have another few minutes. A puzzle with over an hour of actual work time is hard, but some puzzles that take 3 hours are moderate because they have only been worked on for ten or fifteen minutes. Some other sites give the ability to minimize or hide the puzzle while turning off the timer, which takes more time on PuzzleMix, where I have to save, close, and re-open later.
Sometimes I would prefer to have Easy, Medium, and Hard with the option of Medium-Easy or Medium-Hard.
Now if I could just be consistent about my own guidelines, I could offer advice to others ... but sadly it is not so.
(I use solution class modifying aids only if already screwed up.)
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