I'm looking for a word/term/idiom that describes a problem that is really difficult to solve or handle.

One that I can think of is "spaghetti code" but it seems a bit exclusive for computer stuff.

Is there another more general term to describe it?



is one more powerful synonym of puzzle, problem, enigma, &c. Turns out it has a more interesting etymology than I expected. It's not from Latin but first shows up as Oxbridge slang

1596 Tom Nashe's Haue with You to Saffron-Walden; or, Gabriell Harueys Hunt is Vp

So will I... driue [Gabriel Harvey] to confesse himselfe a Conundrum, who now thinks he hath learning inough to proue the saluation of Lucifer.

so apparently it was dog latin for a pedant or ninny at first but then used for puns (first attested in the sermons of a would-be wit:)

16 Dec. 1645, Kingdom's Weekly Post, p. 76:

This is the man who would have his device alwayes in his sermons, which in Oxford they then called conundrums. For an instance... Now all House is turned into an Alehouse, and a pair of dice is made a Paradice, was it thus in the days of Noah? Ah no!

then an acrostic-like game based on punning answers before finally becoming the headstratcher it is now.

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Especially if you're referring to a single, very difficult problem, you could call it a Gordian knot:

  • an intricate problem, especially a problem insoluble in its own terms
  • a complicated and difficult problem

(source: Merriam-Webster, normal definition and definition for English Language Learners)

The term derives from Greek legends and is associated with Alexander the Great, which supposedly solved the knot by cutting it with his sword instead of disentangling it. You can read more on Wikipedia.

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  • That is not the definition from Merriam Webster. Please post the original definition and then an interpretation if you like. Moreover, gordian knot is used for a problem that is almost impossible to solve, a degree, if not many, greater than what the OP asks. – vickyace Apr 12 '17 at 8:14

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