Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wednesday Search Challenge (2/29/12): Impossible, yet simple?

For today, a simple, yet seemingly impossible puzzle.  
Like the "impossible" Penrose triangle (seen above), there's a short phrase that captures an important idea every student suffers from at some point in their educational career:


That is,  they run into a problem that seems impossible to solve, but when the answer is revealed, the solution is seen to be trivial.  


These kinds of things drive students crazy.  "It's impossible!" they cry.  But when they finally figure it out (or the teacher shows them how), they realize how they were working waaay too hard and the answer was right in front of them the whole time.  


So today's impossible, yet simple, challenge is this:  


What short 4-word idiomatic phrase (in English) captures this idea of a problem that seems impossible, but actually has a simple and obvious solution?  


Be sure to say how you figured it out!  


(I know, I know... it seems impossible...) 




Search on! 

93 comments:

  1. this one is difficult to validate. there is no _one_ correct solution. i will go with:
    "I have the result, only I do not yet know how to get to it."

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  2. @Hannes -- You're right... I wasn't precise enough in my question. I modified it to be:

    *What short, 4-word idiomatic phrase (in English) captures this idea of a problem that seems impossible, but actually has a simple and obvious solution?*

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    Replies
    1. There are two more idioms that come to mind that i don't see mentioned anywhere. having heard them throughout my childhood in Georgia, a southern drawl can easily string 4-6 words into a single multi-syllabic gibberish- perhaps making these applicable.

      "Like going through your asshole to get to your elbow."
      and my personal favorite...
      "You're knottin' me for a loop!"

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  3. I came up with "Cutting the Gordian Knot."

    Took me a while to get there but I ended up with a search that looked like this:

    "impossible problem" obvious solution idiom

    The phrase Gordian Knot popped up and that reminded me of the phrase.

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  4. I started by searching for [difficult task obvious solution]. Tried a few synonyms. Then tried [difficult problem easy solution idiom] and came up with "... can't see the forest for the trees."

    Just realized the question was edited so back to the search after I get home from work.

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  5. "Cutting the Gordian Knot" is my guess. I got this one in a weird way. Took about 10 minutes or so. Started with a google search for a list of idioms related to problems, and read through a bunch but didn't find anything. Next, I tried a search on "simple solution to complex problem", saw something that looked promising and clicked it. It turned out to be a list of movie cliches, specifically about how villains in movies have these elaborate death traps instead of just shooting the hero.

    This got me thinking about Indiana Jones, and that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indy shoots the swordsman in the market. That image led me to remember Alexander the Great and the Gordian knot. I used a google search for "cutting the Gordian Knot" and came up with this site, http://www.maa.org/devlin/devlin_9_01.html, that talked about making a real one, and this site, http://www.usingenglish.com/reference/idioms/cut+the+gordian+knot.html, which confirmed my guess.

    But I guess "Thinking Outside the Box" or "Stop Drowning, Stand Up!" might work too.

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  6. I googled the words phrase obvious solution. A result toward the bottom of the page (gwydir.demon.co.uk/jo/games/puzzles/solution2.htm had the text snippet: "The phrase "think outside the box" means "Don't just think of the obvious solutions. Try thinking of weird things; they might help you to solve the problem." This is ..."
    "Think outside the box" could be it.

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  7. "Keep it simple stupid." (KISS)

    After a few fruitless searches, I remembered this phrase from my reading.

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  8. "Cut/Cutting the Gordian knot"

    I have no search strategy for this, I've just heard this phrase used for what you describe.

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  9. "To square the circle"?

    Searched for "phrase history appears impossible but simple solution"

    Dumb search luck turned up a Wikipedia article on squaring the circle (it just happened to have all the search words in it). This article referenced the metaphorical use of the term.

    Not sure it this is what you are looking for but it sure is close!

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    Replies
    1. I like the suggestion, but squaring the circle, at least in the sense the phrase has historically been used, has been thoroughly proven impossible: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Squaring_the_circle

      "Hiding in plain sight" is my favorite suggestion so far.

      Delete
  10. Can't see the forest for the trees.

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  11. Cut the Gordian Knot

    "If someone cuts the Gordian knot, they solve a very complex problem in a simple way."

    Googled idiomatic phrases, led me to usingenglish.com.

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  12. "cutting the Gordian Knot", or "thinking outside the box"

    Search for the term "impossible problem that has a simple solution", leading to ancient math problems that leads to squaring the circle, deriving from that the classic problem of the Gordian Knot, looking that up and seeing "thinking outside the box" related to lateral thinking.

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  13. Think outside the box.

    I remembered the old nine dot puzzle from school. I googled the puzzle and read the Wikipedia page to get the phrase.

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  14. I did a Google search for "idioms easy 'seems|looks impossible'" and flipped through several pages of results. One (http://www.widespread-idioms.uni-trier.de/files/Idioms%20of%20Part%20I.pdf) caught my eye, and looking through that I came up with:

    The Egg of Columbus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egg_of_Columbus)

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  15. I always loved the story behind this...
    "Cutting the Gordian Knot."

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  16. "Discovery of the obvious"

    Did a simple search for "simple and obvious solution". The first result was for this page: http://www.spaceandmotion.com/simple-science/truth-reality-discovery-of-the-obvious.htm

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  17. L'spirit de esclair & hindsight is 20/20

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  18. X Marks the Spot

    I searched for common English idioms, and looked through the list hat had 4 "words"

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  19. I'm going to guess "Forest for the Trees"
    after a few different searches that didn't really leave me with the answer, i started to think about the idea. And tried various synonyms. None of them really gave me a results i felt was right, so i typed in "idioms obvious" and came across several that i had hopes for like "Under one's nose" or "elephant in the room" but those didn't really capture the idea of the student not being able to see the obvious solution to a problem. So while reading those idioms i remembered "Can't see the forest through the trees" and found that there indeed was a shortened versions called "Forest for the Trees" as an idiom. So maybe it's not right, but it seems to fit.

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  20. I am German and the correct German idiom would be "das Ei des Kolumbus". It describes accurately a simple solution to an impossible problem. The challenge was to balance an egg on one of the tips, after everyone failed, Kolumbus just dented the egg and that was it...
    A suggested translation is "cut the gordion knot" - while four words, in my opinion the meaning is not the same...

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  21. Is it "Cut the Gordian Knot" I did a search on "seemingly impossible problem" which led to an exercise in "English for the Combined Defense Service Examination", where the answer was Gordian Knot. Then doing a search on Gordian Knot idiom, brought up the answer.

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  22. I first googled “impossible simple obvious solution” and got nowhere in 10-15 minutes (but it was fun).

    I reread the challenge, and googled ”phrase impossible obvious.” Sixth answer on the page is Wikipedia's “Elephant in the room.”

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  23. Are you looking for "The Egg of Columbus"?

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  24. "Squaring the circle"

    1 minute.

    Google search for "phrase:impossible solution"

    Wiki was the 7 or 8th result

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Squaring_the_circle

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  25. "It's not that hard"

    That's my random guess

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  26. Impossible Yet Simple Challenge, duh!

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  27. Forest from the trees

    It popped in my head immediately, so I figured it was correct.

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  28. Forest from the Trees! - It just popped in my head so I assumed it was correct.

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  29. [cutting OR untangling] the Gordian knot? This is what came to mind initially and I googled to verify that I wasn't off base. There's a connotation of cheating with it though that isn't described in the puzzle.

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  30. Can't see the forest for the trees. Searched my mind.

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  31. "Much ado about nothing." (the long way around via a google search for 'English idioms')

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  32. Thought about this all afternoon.

    "If it were a snake it would have bit me" (too many words)

    Finally searched for [can't figure obvious answer idiom] and found "Elephant in the room" in the results http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant_in_the_room

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  33. How about "Making mountains of molehills"?

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  34. Top of my head:
    "It's not rocket science"
    "Looks can be deceptive"
    "Hidden in plain sight"
    "Think outside the box"
    "Back to square one"
    "easier than it looks"
    I bow to KISS though.

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  35. "Forest for the Trees"

    I searched for idiomatic phrases which led me to a page on the UsingEnglish.com site. I navigated to the American English Idioms and found this one.

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  36. I read the repost on Lifehacker, and I contemplated the challenge by imagining what my math professor would say if he were to pose a question like that. The answer I got was "trick question."
    Then I read a few of the comments there, but none of them struck me as the true answer.
    When I followed the link here, I found the newly specified requirements. This led to more contemplation, which resulted in my final answer: "Right under your nose."

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  37. "Elementary my dear Watson."

    It was simple.

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  38. "like dividing by zero" It seems impossible but is actually just undefined!

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  39. It's "easier than it looks".

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  40. elementary my dear watson

    Forgot to add what my Google search was: none. Here's demonstrating limitations of tools (not that I find web search useless, on the contrary)

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  41. I'm going to go with "Cut the Gordian Knot"
    http://www.usingenglish.com/reference/idioms/cut+the+gordian+knot.html

    I searched "idiomatic expressions" on google and found this site (http://www.usingenglish.com/reference/idioms/).

    I used the search option and ran through some key words like impossible, obvious, simple and looked for 4 word idioms with something relating to your definition. I found "Cut the Gordian Knot" a few minutes later.

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  42. Searching on an English idiom website (http://www.usingenglish.com/reference/idioms/) came up with "Answers on a postcard." The definition seemed to fit, although the expression was unfamiliar to me. A further searched indicated it was a reference to submission guidelines for magazine puzzles in the UK.

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  43. I'm going to go with "deceptively simple"

    Ran a Google search to find a phrase dictionary "The Phrase finder" did a search on "simple solution" searched results really like this one a lot and I remembered it hearing it before.

    http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/index.html

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  44. ooops posted before I read other comments

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  45. "Needle in a haystack"

    http://www.learn-english-today.com/idioms/idiom-categories/problems-difficulties.htm

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  46. I found "Elephant in the room" by searching for "obvious problem phrase"

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  47. Thinking outside the box.

    I came across it by looking at the first comment saying that "cutting the gordian knot" was the answer. I didn't know what that was, so I googled it. Went to a wikipedia article about it and saw the term "thinking outside the box"

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  48. Pieranski not Gordian knot... would have never found that, i cry, it's improbably impossible! pragmatic cheating isn't simple or trivial though, even if oracles and ruling continents are involved.
    btw, are you hanging out with young female Gogglettes? - ..."they realize how they were working waaay too hard and the answer was right in front of them"...
    vocal fry,

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  49. "Occam's Razor." Simplest solution is often the correct one.

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  50. "Tip Of My Tongue". That moment where you KNOW the answer is simple, but it FEELS impossible to spit out.

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  51. "Read between the lines"
    "Think outside the box"
    "You're thinking too much"
    "Don't over think it"
    "no one right answer"

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  52. I forgot one:

    "Hidden in plain sight"

    All of the answers I submitted just came to mind ... I did several searches on phrases such as "impossible obvious solutions" but didn't come up with anything better than the five phrases that just came to mind

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  53. How about "Hidden in plain sight"

    Again, not found in search, just popped in my brain while thinking about the question.

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  54. "Read between the the lines"
    I spent 2-3 minutes reading the comments so far then searched google for "Four Word Phrase" (without quotes). The top link, item 38 (http://brainz.org/100-best-four-word-phrases/)

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  55. "A piece of cake."

    First thing that came to mind.

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  56. I know it's not 4 words but I always liked
    "You're trying to turn the Deku Tree into the Water Temple."

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  57. Whatever the answer is, I'm sure the solution will be easier that it looked.

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  58. Googled "impossible problem" "simple solution" together.

    Scrolled down and, interestingly enough, the search result listed directly below the search result for this very post was this Wikipedia entry:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Squaring_the_circle

    "To square the circle."

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  59. With Babylonian value of Pi, the puzzle of "Squaring the Circle" could be solved.

    Try this link : http://www.academia.edu/4302840/Squaring_the_Circle

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