What does "throw a wrinkle" mean? Example:

I’ve got a conversation with Jacob later today that may throw a wrinkle in…

  • It means cause problems.
    – Barmar
    Oct 30, 2014 at 17:25
  • I think this figurative usage (a wrinkle is a disturbed/uneven area within something flat, smooth, consistent, uneventful) is General Reference. Oct 30, 2014 at 17:58
  • According to Online Etymology Dictionary a wrinkle was (is) associated with something new, novel, a new idea since 1817
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 1, 2014 at 15:29
  • 1
    Take a freshly laundered bedsheet, open it up, and shake it to get some air under it and have it land smoothly on the bed. But, alas, when it lands there's a wrinkle in the fabric. You've "thrown a wrinkle" in the sheet.
    – Hot Licks
    May 19, 2017 at 18:26

3 Answers 3


'Put a wrinkle in...' means to cause a potential, easily overcome slight problem.
I've no idea if 'throw a wrinkle' means the same or if it's just incorrectly worded.

The party quickly ran out of beer which put a wrinkle in the festivities.

We will have a working prototype just as soon as we've ironed out the wrinkles.
This also means to get rid of small problems etc.

  • Google Search finds a handful of websites with throw, but Google Ngram can't find anything. I guess it's an informal wording.
    – Barmar
    Oct 30, 2014 at 18:03
  • 3
    It's probably a mix of "throw a wrench in [the works]" and "put a wrinkle in".
    – Hellion
    Oct 30, 2014 at 18:10

The version of "throwing a wrinkle" that I'm most familiar with comes up in the context of sports strategies. For example, from a September 2, 2006, introductory deck on ESPN.com:

Anthony Morelli threw for 206 yards and three touchdowns in his first start and No. 19 Penn State threw in some new wrinkles on defense to defeat Akron, 34-16 on Saturday at rain-soaked Beaver Stadium.

The meaning of wrinkles here is essentially "strategic adjustments, or variations in the alignment or assignments (of the defenders)."

The wording in the OP's question, however, suggests that the intended meaning of "throw a wrinkle in" there is something along the lines of "add a complication to." That is the evident sense of "throw a wrinkle" as it appears in, for example, Jean Elshtain, Sovereignty: God, State, and Self (2012):

Machiavelli's prince is a highly personalistic vision of rule. He reaches back into the pagan past and resurrects the goddess Fortuna, a "bitch goddess" that controls about half of human affairs. This throws a wrinkle into strong notions of sovereignty as a mechanism to control and to manage as much of human life organized into a political body as possible.

And likewise from James Perone, The Words and Music of Melissa Etheridge (2014):

Interestingly, however, Etheridge incorporates two lines from the text of the lullaby/nursery rhyme “Rock-a-Bye Baby,” which throws a wrinkle into the listener's interpretation of the meaning of “Breakdown” and the relationship of the two principal characters in the song. The listener is left to consider if the other character is one of Etheridge's children, or if she is using the references to "Rock-a-Bye Baby" metaphorically, or perhaps if he considers the person to whom she sings to be childlike in their lack of emotional control.

In both of these instances "throw a wrinkle seems to mean something along the lines of "add a layer of complexity" or "complicate a relatively smooth or straightforward situation." This usage seems to have emerged fairly recently: a Google Books search finds 17 matches for "throws a wrinkle" in this sense, the earliest being from 1992 but the vast majority (12 of 17) being from 2000 or later.


My dad, born in Georgia in the early 1900’s, when a complication arose would say, “Well, that puts a new wrinkle in the sheet.” A problem solved, “That makes the cheese more binding.”

  • 1
    Any evidence that "puts a new wrinkle" means the same as "throw a wrinkle"? Jul 3, 2022 at 15:32

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