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I considered deceptively complex or deceptively simple (depending on how you interpret this previous post) as a way of expressing this. But, I would like to avoid the potential for misunderstanding and just use an idiom or expression that is unmistakable.

For example, John gravitated towards enrolling in the college course Children's Literature assuming it to be an easy A, but he was deceived. The course is in fact ______________________. (INSERT IDIOM OR EXPRESSION IN BLANK)

  • 1
    "tricky" or "trickier than it looks might be a possibility if it were simply a question or single issue. If describing a course, the word "complex" feels better to me, even though I hear your qualms about "deceptively". "refreshingly complex", "surprisingly complex", "enticingly complex" . If you are using "in fact", you are already emphasizing a contrast with expectation, so I might think merely describing that it is not simple might be enough. the course is, in fact, enticingly complex – Tom22 May 16 '17 at 20:42
  • @Tom22, I really like your suggestion of "surprisingly complex." No potential for misunderstanding and it gets the point across about being tricked. Want to add it as an answer? – thomj1332 May 16 '17 at 20:49
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    In your particular example I think “anything but child’s play” could be appropriate (if not overly/cheesily so!). However, just as the usage in the first sentence of the linked article refers to “dolls,” you’d probably need to add a reference back to the course’s name to fully capture the “appears easy” notion: “In spite of its title, the course is in fact anything but (or “far from being”) child’s play.” – Papa Poule May 18 '17 at 15:32
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"surprisingly complex" could work well.

The word "complex" seems to reflect well on a course with rich content.

"surprisingly" signals the unexpected nature of the complexity.

If it were only a single simple question that was more complex you could simply say "tricky" however I do not believe that would apply well with the body of content in a course.

3

There is more to it than meets the eye is a phrase used in these circumstances.

1

The course is in fact far from easy.
The course is in fact anything but easy.

TFD(idioms):

far from
Not at all; anything but:
You are far from a failure.

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

anything but
By no means; not at all:
I was anything but happy about going.

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

  • Thanks for the answer. I still like the other answers better because they include the idea that the course appears easy. – thomj1332 May 18 '17 at 14:35
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Depending on how you feel about the surprise complexity, you might call it

a wolf in sheep’s clothing
​ someone or something that seems to be good but is actually not good at all

(All linked definitions from Cambridge Dictionary.)

You could also customize the phrase, such as

John gravitated towards enrolling in the college course Children's Literature assuming it to be an easy A, but he was deceived. The course is in fact a hard grind in cakewalk clothing.

substituting whatever idiomatic synonyms for "difficult" and "easy" you prefer.

Finally, the "disguise" metaphor is very productive, so you could also employ it directly:

It was a brainteaser masquerading as a no-brainer.

  • Wow. Thanks for the answer. These are really good insights. I especially like the word masquerading in this context. The anthropomorphism of it is striking and communicative -- like the Course is lurking about trying to trick you into taking it and then it pounces once it has you in its trap! Haha! – thomj1332 May 18 '17 at 14:42

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