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Kudos for not using the same clickbait title The Guardian did.

Journalistic integrity is dead.

For the record, I submitted the article with the original article title, as I always attempt to do. (Some articles have more than one "original" title. In doubtful cases, I read the source code of an article, to distinguish top-level headings from sharing titles from HTML titles, and choose the title that I think is most informative for a Hacker News readership.) In this case, I submitted the title from The Guardian with the "Attack on pentagon" title, and some member of the moderation team here changed it after a while. I'm gratified that this submission has received so many thoughtful comments both from mathematically trained onlookers and from amateurs at this level of mathematics like me. (The author of the original article has deep training and experience in mathematics, and is a regular mathematics columnist for The Guardian who likes word play in his column titles.)

I just read your HN bio. You're a very interesting guy! I'm an undergraduate student and one of my favorite conversation starters when I meet new friends majoring in STEM-fields is how they would change primary and secondary math education. Because we're just 18-22 year olds, the concepts that we struggled with and the methods we liked are still fresh in our mind... Though as each year goes by and I learn more advanced maths I find myself going back on how I felt before.

I hope that this bickering over his choice of a title and whether or not it's a pun doesn't rub you the wrong way. I think it's a great article otherwise and it's an incredibly interesting problem that made me think. Thank you for posting it!

For what it's worth, I don't really fault the author for coming up with this title. Ultimately the responsibility falls on his editor and I think his editor should have stopped it. Others are free to disagree with me (and by the downvotes, I'd say most are.)

It's a pun, not clickbait.

This is not the death of "journalistic integrity".

No, the original title is clearly clickbait – meant to be misinterpreted as something other than what the article is about. Here is what a real pun in a newspaper headline looks like:


It's a pun

PUN: Attack on the pentagon results in discovery of new mathematical tile

CB: Breaking News: Pentagon attack

Yeah, it's a pun. So what? The title being a pun doesn't make it any less misleading. Puns and clickbait are not mutually exclusive.

My real gripe is that there's a time and place for everything and a newspaper ought to know and respect that line. You don't mislead someone skimming your headlines into thinking the pentagon has been attacked for the sake of a joke. I like clever headlines as much as the next guy, and I understand that for the sake of a joke you might leave some ambiguity in the air and mislead your reader slightly, but this goes far past that.

I think his editor should have caught this.

I think using the word 'mathematical tile' indicates that it is a maths/geek article rather than serious news, and takes this into the safe zone. Just. It's a fine line though.

The title, being a pun, is only meant to be misinterpreted for the first half of the sentence. It can hardly be clickbait if the reveal is made by the end of the anchor text.

You put 'journalistic integrity' in quotes.

FWIW, SPJ uses this exact term in their ethics code. I'm not trying to be pretentious.


The method was apparently a brute force attack, so the title is accurate.

Something can be accurate and still be misleading.

It would only have been misleading with a capitalised "Pentagon".

Well now we're arguing semantics. But okay.

I think that in the context of a newspaper when you read, "Attack on the pentagon" the first thought that most people have is that there has been an attack on The Pentagon. That's the whole reason it's a pun, right? Because you're lead to believe it refers to The Pentagon when it really refers to a 5 sided polygon?

That's an inappropriate thing for a newspaper to do. Go ahead and make puns, just not about attacks on government buildings.

The SPJ ethics code clearly states,

> "make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context."

At the very least you must admit that it's pushing the envelope, no? The fact that the HN mods changed the title from what OP submitted is evidence enough that I'm not alone in thinking it's a misleading headline.

> most people have is that there has been an attack on The Pentagon

Most people on this planet do not give a crap about some tasteless Northern American building. It is unlikely the first association with the word "pentagon" for anyone outside of the US.

I agree that most people don't think of The Pentagon when they hear the word "pentagon" alone. But the title says, "Attack on the pentagon". Furthermore, given that the Guardian is a UK newspaper, I would argue that most people in the UK know what The Pentagon is and associate the phrase with the building.

But let's assume I'm wrong and most readers don't know what The Pentagon is or wouldn't have associated the title with the US government building. If that's the case, then what is the point of the pun at all?

Just asked a number of people around how do they read this title. Nobody had "The Pentagon" in mind. London, UK, geeky population, so there might be some bias.

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