7

to crack something: to find the solution to a problem

I have to find the answer for a difficult question.

Is it correct to say:

"I finally cracked the question" or "I finally cracked the answer"?

"I finally cracked the solution" or "I finally cracked the problem"?

4
  • 4
    It maybe be a regional thing, but none of those phrases are common in the cities I've lived in (Texas, Colorado). I have heard a shorter version: "I've cracked it", and the it can be the puzzle, the problem, the case, the challenge, whatever. But it seems to be that what is cracked is the entire thing, not the question vs the answer. In fact, cracking the question is of little value if it doesn't lead to an answer; and cracking an answer makes no sense. So cracking the "problem" (question+answer) makes more sense. Oct 31, 2022 at 23:57
  • 1
    cracked the problem is much more common than cracked the question and cracked the answer doesn't appear. ngram results
    – Wyck
    Nov 2, 2022 at 14:48
  • To add to the (correct) answers: one will say "I finally found the solution"
    – Cort Ammon
    Nov 2, 2022 at 19:12
  • "cracked the problem" or "cracked the question" suggests to me that you've found the correct approach but might still have a little work to do to get the answer.
    – Stuart F
    Nov 3, 2022 at 13:49

5 Answers 5

21

Following the metaphor, of cracking the shell of a nut, to give access to easy "meat" inside, it is the problem or the question that you crack and not the answer.

2
  • But this would only imply that you understand the question fully. And that's not really how this expression is used. Oct 31, 2022 at 23:59
  • @Michael The metaphor sees the question as a puzzle you're solving. It has a right answer, but it's hidden.
    – trlkly
    Nov 1, 2022 at 22:31
7

This is related to several sayings that can be classified as "cracking something". Part of the origin of this class of saying is "That is a tough nut to crack." Nuts have always been a problem until we found the right tools to crack them. Each type of nut presents its own challenges and level of difficulty. One of the toughest nuts I know of is the Black Walnut. A standard nutcracker will have difficulty cracking these. And once cracked open, the meat is still difficult to extract, so it is a particularly tough nut to crack. As mentioned in other answers, this leads us to cracking questions, problems, cases and other things in order to get to the meat or solution. Now let's get cracking.

5

"Cracking the question" is correct. "Cracking the answer" is not correct, though.

The usual natural use is:

I cracked this riddle!

Which is kind of the same as cracking a case/question.

2

There is one situation where I think it does make sense to “crack” an answer, and that is in cryptography. We can “crack” a cipher, code or message, and the answer then is one of those.

For example,

In 1931, the cypher section was merged with the Polish Radio-Intelligence Office to form the Cypher Bureau, headed by Major Gwido Langer and his deputy, Captain Maksymilian Ciężki. Ciężki had long been convinced that the key to cracking encrypted messages lay not in linguistics, but in mathematics.

The rest of the time, I would normally say, “crack the problem.”. That said, “crack the answer” does seem to be used occasionally for things like brain teasers, although it sounds odd to me.

1
  • 3
    I don't see how that quote supports your answer. For me, an encoded message is the metaphorical outer-nut; whereas the hidden message inside is the edible part.
    – MikeB
    Nov 1, 2022 at 12:17
1

I agree with @MichaelTeter, I have never heard any of these variations where I am from. Even though, as @James K says, cracking the problem or question makes more logical sense in relation to a metaphor with a nut, I have only ever heard metaphors about cracking "the code", in reference to some sort of cryptographic code or computer security system (as mentioned by @Davislor). The term "crack" is also a common term which seems to derive from this.

So in my experience, you can only crack nuts and code, not problems or questions. You solve problems and you answer questions.

I actually find these examples you've provided very unnatural to say. If I solved a difficult puzzle and wanted to exclaim it to my friends, I would likely announce: "Guys! I cracked the code!", even though it was perhaps a physical toy puzzle, with no code involved whatsoever, but this incongruity also makes it a bit more funny to me.

Your question does say, "is it correct", but I think the context really matters to answer that, because this is not a question of grammar.

Are you writing a poem? Then it's fine to use this metaphor however you want, crack anything, crack someone's patience, crack a lock, crack a wiring diagram, crack a mind, crack space and time.

Are you just trying to sound natural among English speaking people in North America? Then perhaps don't crack any of those things you've listed.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .