I can't quite think one up. The situation I have in mind is that the solution worked at one point, and it conceivably could have been repeated, but it doesn't necessarily upon repeat attempts.

Does such an idiom exist?


Such a situation is best described as 'a flash in the pan'.

1.a thing or person whose sudden but brief success is not repeated or repeatable.

Google Dictionary

Nov 20, 2017 (Nigeria's) Economic Recovery: Flash in the Pan?


ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF THE PHRASE : (according to phrase.org)

Gold prospecting isn't the origin of 'a flash in the pan'. The phrase did have a literal meaning, that is, it derives from a real flash in a real pan, but not a prospector's pan. Flintlock muskets used to have small pans to hold charges of gunpowder. An attempt to fire the musket in which the gunpowder flared up without a bullet being fired was a 'flash in the pan'.

The term has been known since the late 17th century. Elkanah Settle, in Reflections on several of Mr. Dryden's plays, 1687, had this to say: "If Cannons were so well bred in his Metaphor as only to flash in the Pan, I dare lay an even wager that Mr. Dryden durst venture to Sea."


I think flash in the pan denotes a never-repeated, one-off occurence of an event. I would call a solution that only works intermittently hit-or-miss.

hit-or-miss (PHRASE)

As likely to be unsuccessful as successful.
‘her work can be hit-or-miss’

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