Recently @NotEvans proposed a synthetic golf challenge which became quite a success. It garnered so many views and upvotes and will gain popularity in the upcoming days. He also said that for the time being, these type of challenges is to confined in organic field only.

But I have been thinking lately on some challenge other than organic field and came up with an idea - salt identification challenge. Take a look at this question:

What can this chemical be? (Qualitative Analysis)

This is a perfect example of the type of question I am wanting. In this challenge, the OP will pose a set of data and observations for reaction tests of both cation and anion (the OP knows the salt firsthand in this challenge) and will challenge the users/answerer to identify both cation and anion and ultimately the salt with logic. The one which correctly identifies the salt is the winner.

This will be a refreshing challenge and will give a break from answering same-old conceptual chemistry questions. There would be some disadvantages. The question might get closed as 'too broad' or 'unclear' BUT if the data/observation are given precisely and accurately, it is unlikely that question will get closed. Look at the question I linked. It has not been closed because the question is so beautifully posed and this type of question are qualified for the challenge.

As @NotEvans said, 'the idea of these type of challenges (synthesis golf and salt identification) is that it encourages people to get involved by providing an open-ended (but well defined) question that can be answered by users of different levels, hopefully encouraging both engagement and retention.' And it is well said.

Your feedback is appreciated.

  • $\begingroup$ On first blush, especially given the success of [synthesis-golf], I am strongly inclined to support giving this a shot. $\endgroup$
    – hBy2Py
    Jul 4, 2017 at 18:18
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I can't say I like it. In synthesis you could actually use such path. Classical salt analysis is homework for first grades. Instrumental analysis is real deal. $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Jul 4, 2017 at 21:15

3 Answers 3


tl;dr: I don't necessarily think this is going to work well, but support anything that might engage people around here, ultimately, if it works, great, if it doesn't, theres no lasting damage and it can easily be removed.

I thought, given that I'd tried to make 'synthesis golf' a thing, I should comment on 'salt golf'. In general, one of the big concerns with synthesis golf was that it (perhaps unfairly) necessarily excludes a certain proportion of the users active here on chem.SE (though looking at the tag usage, and general questions, I think its fair to say that organic chemists are over-represented generally amongst active users).

At the time of writing the FAQ for synthesis golf, I talked about possibly expanding the organic nature of it to inorganic/polymer synthesis, but also commented that other things (computational/spectroscopy/nmr-golf) could also work well.

The big question then becomes whether 'salt-golf' is one such thing that would work well.


My main concern with this 'salt identification challenge' is the scope.

Synthesis, by definition, is quite fluid, and as such any given problem will have an infinite number of solutions (none of which can be identified without some knowledge of reactions/previous synthetic work).

Salt identification, on the other hand, is rather formulaic (and arguably doesn't really need knowledge so much as a book on qualitative analysis). Any given salt identification question will necessarily have only one answer, which can be easily arrived at by using the same flowchart that we all used as undergrads doing inorganic labs. Vogel's Qualitative Inorganic Analysis has all the information that could ever be needed (as does SciFinder, but arguably its not quite so straightforward to apply the junk results that SciFinder yields), and as such I worry that essentially one person will answer, and nobody else would bother because 1) the right answer has already been found and 2) necessarily anyone else trying will just arrive at the same point (albeit by a slightly different order of reactions).


A second, and perhaps unfair concern is that nobody really does qualitative analysis now, modern techniques such as elemental analysis and mass spec have vastly superseded it, and as such it becomes quite a trivial issue.


The flip side to my arguments above is that actually, salt identification could in theory be answered by anyone who's willing to invest some time into doing it, as theres no fundamental skill/knowledge involved other than being able to think analytically. For this reason, it could be a way of getting certain users engaged who otherwise wouldn't be able to answer many questions here.


Overall, just post a question and see what happens. I'd perhaps wait to see how it goes before committing to making 'salt-golf' a thing (i.e. just post a question and see how its received. I dont actually think the question you linked to as an example of this is a particularly great question, it very much falls into the 'amirite' category, but thats subjective on my part, especially not knowing much about the topic other than nightmares from inorganic labs in my first year of undergrad with the 'what is this white powder' challenge). My feeling about these things is that they're easy to try, and easily removed if they flop, but they could just do something great and help get people engaged and answering questions.

Good luck have fun!


I gotta agree with @Mithoron on this one. Synthesis golf and Salt Identification are two very different things.

Synthesis golf requires the answerer to have a strong base in organic reactions, and a keen insight to synthesize the given compound in the shortest number of steps possible. Such questions promote logical thinking and well though out answers.

However, Salt Identification is different. Such questions can be easily answered by consulting a textbook. There won't be any originality in answering. It would basially be a race on who can flip pages faster. Moreover, how do you judge the best answer? In this case, there's so many answers that say the same thing, like "This is Sodium Iodide [along with a bunch of reasons why]".


As @Mithoron and @Pritt said, they do not seem to agree with this challenge. But...

Salt analysis can be answered by consulting a well defined textbook and there would not be any originality in answers (indirectly, the winner is who flips pages the fastest).

I don't think this will be the case. Not all have access to salt analysis textbooks. It indeed require logical and critical thinking instead of searching randomly in textbook. They must have a good inorganic knowledge and experience in laboratory. There will be different answer coming to same conclusion but one with the correct logical approach will be declared winner. Also, I would also say that this challenge will promote interest in the inorganic field and will change the way we look at chemistry.

We all know that chemistry can be quite boring if we stick to daily learning and answering same-old conceptual chemistry. But after seeing synthetic golf challenge, I realized that chemistry can be fun if we propose some challenges. These challenges reveal the fun side of chemistry.

I agree that Synthesis golf and Salt Identification are two very different things(just like North Pole and South Pole of Earth). Since, Synthetic golf became quite a success, I do think this will also be a success. I will pose a challenge later or after this month. If this question becomes popular(garners views, votes and answers), I will continue this challenge or else I will discard this proposal.

Don't judge the book by its cover. Its worth a try.


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