Think the context would be say in a movie our heros have got into the bad guy's base, and there's this rubiks cube like puzzle object they have to solve, which is especially difficult to solve it's a ... ?

The best words I've come up with are 'condundrum' and 'enigma' but neither of these seem to fit appropriately.

Condundrum seems to fit more difficulty facing decision making. And enigma is a mysterious problem.

I was sure that there was a word for it, but perhaps there isn't.

closed as general reference by tchrist, user21497, Kristina Lopez, MetaEd, Bravo Feb 8 '13 at 11:58

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Strictly this is a general reference, but you assumed it wasn't in assuming conundrum wasn't the mot juste and not looking it up. Aside from a good dictionary telling you that it does indeed relate most strongly to puzzles, it would have been a good idea anyway, as it could have led you to a good choice. – Jon Hanna Feb 7 '13 at 23:30
  • thesaurus.com/browse/conundrum – tchrist Feb 7 '13 at 23:32
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    Is the fact that the heroes need to solve this puzzle while in the enemy's base to be factored in? I'd consider that to be a dilemma. – Kristina Lopez Feb 7 '13 at 23:59
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    @KristinaLopez I think not. A dilemma requires one to choose between two equally unpleasant possibilities. – StoneyB Feb 8 '13 at 1:39
  • @StoneyB, I guess choosing between solving the bad guys' ludicrous rubik's cube-type puzzle or just using their secret super hero powers to break out of the bad guy hideout could be considered a true dilemma - though outside the scope of the OP's scenario. ;-) – Kristina Lopez Feb 8 '13 at 1:59

You were correct the first time with conundrum.

Your suggestion of it meaning a difficulty faced in decision-making is in fact a figurative use. Originally, conundrum refers to difficult riddles and puzzles, especially if its purpose is amusement. (Your hypothetical heroes would presumably not be amused, but part of the point of that trope is the perversity of something that should be fun being turned to life-and-death stakes).


Perhaps gordian knot

an extremely difficult or involved problem.

It is often used in the context of taking a non-standard and dramatic approach to a solution, as in cut the Gordian knot

to solve a very difficult problem in a quick and determined way that may cause other problems in the future

The phrase is based on a legend

mid 16th century: from the legend that Gordius, king of Gordium, tied an intricate knot and prophesied that whoever untied it would become the ruler of Asia. It was cut through with a sword by Alexander the Great

  • I'd say the solution is now better known than the problem. That said, if his heroes solve their conundrum in a similarly lateral and easy way, the calling it a Gordian knot, or calling their solution a cutting of it, would be more than apt. – Jon Hanna Feb 8 '13 at 0:32
  • @JonHanna Agreed that Gordian knot suggests a dramatic and non-linear solution and is not apt for a routine methodological approach. – bib Feb 8 '13 at 0:35

That puzzle object is a real poser. Also:

One who, or that which, puzzles; a difficult or inexplicable question or fact.

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