Let's say I am writing a computer program, and there is a problem with my code so it won't run properly. Because my code contains so many lines, discovering the source of my problem will be difficult.

Let's say I read every single line of code, and I was just improperly calling a function somewhere.

In this case, the problem I was encountering was very simple, but it was difficult to find.

Another example: Let's say I want to learn how to open my MP3 player so I can replace the parts inside. There may be very little publicly available information about opening up my MP3 player, which makes it difficult to find the right solution, but that solution is as simple as applying pressure to a particular spot and pushing up. (Again, a simple solution, that is difficult to find).

8 Answers 8


Your solution is "a needle in a haystack."

  • 2
    That covers the "difficult to find" aspect, but doesn't say anything about how easy it was to deal with once found.
    – user1579
    Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 14:56
  • 6
    Hm... we might have to invent something like: "A piece of cake in a haystack." Ha!
    – The Raven
    Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 15:18
  • 1
    I'm not eating that cake!
    – user1579
    Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 15:22
  • It could be something like this: "Finding the solution was as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack, but it was very simple to solve!"
    – Ed. Brazil
    Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 16:29
  • @TheRaven This was my first thought exactly, and your comment was my second. This is by far the most common way of expressing the need to sift through extra information, but although a needle is inherently simple, it is not explicitly expressed in the phrase.
    – Dani
    Commented Aug 15, 2012 at 18:47

I'm pretty sure there is no single word to represent your phrase. English doesn't do single word complexities like that nearly as universally as people seem to think; that's what we have phrases for!

The best phrase I can think of is that your mistake was "obvious in hindsight," or variations on that theme. The idea that is expressing is that once you saw the line of code with the incorrect function call (however long or short a time it took you to get there), you immediately knew it was the cause of your trouble. This doesn't fit your second example quite so well, however, and it doesn't make a terribly strong statement about the problem being difficult to find.

  • That's what I'm starting to realize. I think my expectation of the English language is unrealistically high.
    – sooprise
    Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 15:11

I think you're attempting to express too many ideas for one single word to describe. The closest thing to fit that description would be "enigmatic", but that only vaguely implies a level of unforeseen complexity and not that the solution itself was simple.

With two words, you could say "deceptively simple" which fits the bill much better than one word could.

  • +1, "deceivingly simple" is good, but what is a phrase also where you know the solution is simple, but it is difficult to find? So it's clearly simple, but difficult to find.
    – sooprise
    Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 15:07
  • 6
    I like "deceptively simple" better than "deceivingly simple".
    – Kevin
    Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 15:07
  • There's no relationship between being a simple solution and a solution that's difficult to locate, so you'd be hard-pressed to find a phrase which describes exactly that. Again, I think deceivingly simple (or as Kevin said, deceptively simple) expresses something seemingly complicated but in reality it's straightforward.
    – Neil
    Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 15:42
  • Making edit for deceptively simple seeing how it's favored.
    – Neil
    Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 20:44

The task of opening the MP3 player is "easy when you know how". You can't really apply that to the line of code, though.


A few options, each with their own flavor:

  • petty — small and simple but hard to find
  • gremlin — a notoriously difficult to locate cause
  • glitch/bug — glitches generally take more time to find than fix
  • oversight — easy to miss but fairly noticeable once you do see it
  • gordian — a derivation of Gordian Knot
  • riddle — something with a difficult to find solution but once you know the answer it becomes trivial
  • ununseeable — a play on the phrase "once you see it, you can't unsee it"

Using any of these with an apt noun or adjective will probably get you close enough. (I prefer gordian.)


How about "OCCULT", as in "Hidden from view; concealed" or "Not accompanied by readily detectable signs or symptoms"?


It's not ideal by any means, but I typically just say that solving the problem was a nuisance or an annoyance, which implies that it took up my time and made me frustrated, but I didn't learn anything valuable from the experience.


"Illusively elusive".

It's difficult to pin down, but when you do, it's not at all what you expected!!

Joking - but "elusive" is a good way to imply "difficult to track down or find". You could get your concept down to three words with something like "elusive yet facile". One word - that's hard!

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