I'm looking for a post that I'm 100% sure was still here on this site about a year ago. It probably has tags "big-list" and "soft-question", and at least several of the responses received more than 100 upvotes.

So far the search using keywords and other clues from my memory is futile.

There seems to be more big-list and soft-question in the earlier years, and some of them either got closed or deleted.

I wonder if there's a way to search among the deleted posts (just the titles) as a user with minimal rep (like me).

BTW, is it okay to ask for help in finding a specific post? If that is not frowned upon, I can provide a description of the post I'm looking for.

In response to @ToddTrimble, the post I'm looking for is about:

seemingly elementary or simple facts (theorems, concepts, analogies etc) one learned long ago that still amaze you now (or that you later realized are profound). Only one item each entry as per usge.

I actually don't remember THE top upvoted answers, but I recall "the linearity of expectation" got over 100+ while ranking outside of top 5 (by default listing). I was a bit surprised not by this answer itself but that this answer resonated with so many people.

The top answers were relatively less memorable to me because either I didn't have a deep understanding about those, or they were more "predictable", like some celebrated common knowledge in set theory or number theory (less sure about geometry here).

I will be deeply embarrassed if it turns out that my memory is totally off, but at least as of now the image in my head is vivid.

The phrasing of that entry included "additivity" more likely than not, so it could be "linear additivity of expectation", "additivity of expectation", or "expectation is linearly additive".

As for which of the key adjectives (or the corresponding verb) were being used in the title or text, like "trivial", "profound", "favorite", "intriguing", "amazing", "dazzled", etc ... sorry this I'm really foggy on this part, and I don't remember if there's community wiki or an answer marked as "accepted".

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    $\begingroup$ Yes, please provide a more detailed description. $\endgroup$
    – Todd Trimble Mod
    Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 2:18
  • $\begingroup$ Is it even possible for a post with several responses at 100+ upvotes to be deleted? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 2:43
  • $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson yeah that's what I've been thinking. So I'm having a psychosis now ... either my recollection is very wrong in at least one aspect, or I'm using the search functionality wrong. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 3:23
  • $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson Something like that is indeed highly unlikely. As you know from your experience, questions can be deleted. But with such high score the question would require delete votes from 10 users. (And, of course, it would have been closed first.) I have summarized deletion criteria in my answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 5:12
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    $\begingroup$ I have added some tags, but feel free to edit them @LeeDavidChungLin (or anybody else) if you think they are not a good fit. I have added (deleted-questions) since that was part of your original question. However, it seems that the main intention was to find one specific question, which is why I added (searching) and (specific-question). $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 5:15

2 Answers 2


Try this perhaps, and linearity of expectation will be the second answer (at 70 votes currently).

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. I'm really glad you found it for me, but I apologize for not solving this myself and for wasting everybody's time. I was SO SURE that the upvotes were 100+ and that it was "expectation" and not "expected value". BTW, this shows that the text in comments cannot be searched. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 4:11

As far as searching deleted questions is concerned, the site only enables you somewhat limited ability to search for your own deleted posts. I think it is quite well summarized in the answer here: Can I somewhere see my own deleted questions?

I will also add that highly upvoted questions with highly upvoted answers are deleted very rarely if at all. (At least here on MathOverflow.) This was already pointed out in Gerry Myerson's comment. (Of course, moderators can delete any question - they have practically unlimited powers regarding deletion, undeletion, closing, reopening. What I write here is about deletion by regular users.)

All details about deletion can be found here: How does deleting work? What can cause a post to be deleted, and what does that actually mean? What are the criteria for deletion? I will briefly summarize stuff which is relevant for highly upvoted questions with highly upvoted answers:

  • The OP cannot delete their own question which has at least one upvoted answer. So question with highly upvoted answer cannot be deleted in this way.
  • Such question still can be deleted by users who can cast delete votes.
  • The question can only be deleted by votes to delete if it is closed and you need at least three votes.
  • However, if the question is highly upvoted or has highly upvoted anwer, depending on score more votes might be needed. For questions like you described (both the question and the top-voted answer with score close to 100) you will need ten delete votes for the post to be deleted.

However, it seems that your question was mainly about finding one specific post and you remembered that it was highly upvoted. Maybe I am saying stuff you already know, but just in case it can help you (or somebody else) in future searches for similar posts:

  • Search results can be ordered by score - this helps if you are looking for a highly upvoted posts.
  • You can restrict the search to answers by adding is:a and to questions by adding is:q
  • Of course, you can refine the search further by adding keywords or adding tags, etc.
  • You can also restrict search to posts with score above certain value, for example: is:a score:100 means searching for answers with score at least 100.

Sometimes it is more comfortable to search by external search engine. (In particular, if you want to search for some keywords used in comments rather than in the body of a post, then you should use Google with site:mathoverflow.net or some other search engine where you can restrict the search to specific domain. Another possibility is to use SEDE. For more details about this see: Searching for comments.)

But if you want to somehow use the information that the question/answer was highly voted, then the built-in search is probably the way to go. (Although even while searching with Google, question which has many views and is popular is likely to be ranked higher, you cannot restrict by score or order by score like here when using the site's internal search.)

  • $\begingroup$ This is actually really helpful. Thank you. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 5:55

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