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Daniel M. Russell poses what he claims is a deceptively simple brain teaser in his blog:

What short 4-word idiomatic phrase (in English) captures [the] idea of a problem that seems impossible, but actually has a simple and obvious solution?

"Deceptively simple brain teaser" is the best I could come up with, but I don't think it's particularly idiomatic.


So, the originating blogger has posted his intended answer. I would agree that there was no stand-out candidate amongst all the plausible suggestions, so kudos to all those who found a solution.

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What's wrong with the "Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS)" suggested in a comment on that blog post? – yoozer8 Mar 1 '12 at 2:34
@Jim: I reckon KISS is advice on how to tackle problems, rather than a phrase that describes a type of problem. – Ergwun Mar 1 '12 at 2:37
I think you've misunderstood what Russell is saying there - he's posing a "riddle" to which the answer is KISS (Keep it simple, Stupid!), but unless you're already familiar with the answer it's neither simple nor obvious. – FumbleFingers Mar 1 '12 at 2:40
In fact, probably the appropriate answer here actually is "riddle". Which in certain contexts can mean a superficially complex question where the answer is obvious once you get to it. But I don't think English really has a dedicated word for this sort of thing - if it did, that word would turn up repeatedly in the context of cryptic crossword puzzles, which usually have exactly that characteristic. – FumbleFingers Mar 1 '12 at 2:45
"Elemental, My Dear Watson", is what came to my mind first, when he said, that the solution is trivial once revealed:) – Bidella Mar 1 '12 at 2:46
up vote 2 down vote accepted

One of the comments on that blog suggests "An egg of Columbus". From the description here, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egg_of_Columbus, it certainly seems to fit the bill.

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This is the actual solution. searchresearch1.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/… – approxiblue Mar 4 '12 at 19:20

It's to "cut the Gordian knot."

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I like this answer, but I'm not sure it is retrospectively obvious. – Ergwun Mar 1 '12 at 4:00
How obvious it is definitely depends on the cultural baggage you carry. – James McLeod Mar 1 '12 at 4:12

How about

Elementary, my dear Watson

Of course this was never uttered by Holmes in any of Doyle's published works.

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I suspect the riddle's answer is quite as likely to be "thinking outside the box, " as it is to be "cutting the Gordian knot".

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