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I'm looking for a wonderfully useful adjective I've come across several times but have since forgotten.

It was used in the context of solving a difficult problem (think puzzle, math, or science) and describes the likely first approach / solution that a reasonable person with some domain knowledge would consider.

In the context of computer science, for example:

The ______ approach to this pathfinding problem is to use a modified depth-first search algorithm.

Maybe not obvious to an outsider, but would likely be one of the first candidate strategies to come to mind for someone with some computer science training.

The word has a neutral connotation, unlike naive or brute-force, which are commonly used in similar sentences. That is to say, this word makes no claims about whether this approach / solution is ultimately correct.

Again, think "reasonable", "first approach you're likely to think of among several possible approaches"

A word I've considered is "canonical approach" - but I'm not convinced. Unsurprisingly thesaurus.com has been of little help :) I've tried searching through synonyms for canonical, reasonable, straightforward, naive, obvious, standard, conventional but haven't found it yet.

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  • Someone mentioned these below as well; I like these a lot as substitutes. If I never find my word, I think these are the two I'd settle on using in it's place.
    – Brendan S
    Jul 23 at 19:12
  • (especially instinctive, I think that's the closest candidate word so far)
    – Brendan S
    Jul 23 at 19:19

6 Answers 6

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My go-to for these situations is go-to.

Cambridge Dictionary

go-to

adjective (mainly US)

used to describe the best person, thing, or place for a particular purpose or need:

He was the company's go-to guy for new ideas.

A side of salmon is the perfect go-to dish for a dinner party.

For 20 years, Wild Mountain was the go-to store for outdoor enthusiasts.

An example from ArsTechnica:

An implanted wireless device is the NSA's go-to approach for dealing with "air-gapped" networks -- networks that don't have an Internet connection for security reasons.

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  • Yes: 'intuituve' was the first word that came to me, and I think it may be better than 'instinctive', though I wouldn't rule it out.
    – Tuffy
    Jul 23 at 18:37
  • While not the exact word I was looking for (I'm pretty sure I'll recognize it when I see it), I think "intuitive" or "instinctive" are both really great options in this context. Thanks!
    – Brendan S
    Jul 23 at 19:00
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Predictable

If you say that an event is predictable, you mean that it is obvious in advance that it will happen.

  • This was a predictable reaction, given the bitter hostility between the two countries. (Collins)

So your sentence would be:

The predictable approach to this pathfinding problem is to use a modified depth-first search algorithm.

The expected approach is another option.

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  • I think "expected" is a good stand-in, although not the exact word I was looking for
    – Brendan S
    Jul 23 at 18:58
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Obvious or logical perhaps?

Obvious - Natural, likely; such as common sense might suggest (OED)

Logical - follows as a reasonable inference or natural consequence; that is in accordance with the ‘logic’ of events, of human character (OED)

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Simplest or most direct are adjectives / adjectival phrases that have not already been mentioned but would seem to fit well.

Nevertheless these are obviously not the ‘magic word’ the poster is trying to recall. However that is his problem, not that of SE EL&U, the remit of which is to answer English questions in a way that can be useful to others, not to remedy the poster’s deficient memory.

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Hypothetical - pertaining to giving an educated guess

"The hypothetical approach to this pathfinding problem is to use a modified depth-first search algorithm."

Though I would replace "is" with "would be". Which infers that the approach could be wrong.

"The hypothetical approach to this pathfinding problem would be to use a modified depth-first search algorithm."

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natural

If you say that it is natural for someone to act in a particular way or for something to happen in that way, you mean that it is reasonable in the circumstances. (Collins)

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