GORDIAN KNOT, n. Gordon, the King of Khartoum, had as a fastening to his war-chariot a knot so intricate that neither end of the thong could be seen, and he used to brag about it a good deal. Instructed by an oracle, he declared that anybody attempting to undo it and failing should stand the beer, but anybody succeeding should receive the greatest honor that he had ever conferred-a favor which would turn the unsuccessful competitors pea-green with envy and break them all up: the King would shake him for the drinks. When this decree was promulgated all Gordon's subjects joined the Good Templars, but Alexander Badlam of Macedon hearing about it, started at once for the Soudanese capital. Ushered with great pomp into the harness-room, he took out his pocket-knife and calmly cut the knot, remarking with the ready wit which distinguished him from the humorist of the period: "Get onto that racket, my son." "Shake," replied the monarch with truly oriental exuberance of imagery. They shook, using four dice. The King threw four sixes. "Two small pairs," he explained, with royal unconcern. Alexander dumped the cubes back into the box, blew into it, muttered a few cabalistic words and threw. Five deuces! "In Macedon this is the national game, endeared to the popular heart by seventeen centuries of unbroken succcess, and I have been brought through it with a lantern," said he, laconically. Graciously pleased to mark his sense of the performance in words of memorable significance, the monarch exclaimed: "You take the cake," and led the way to the royal sideboard, when, later in the day, Alexander, over three fingers of same as before, explained with the richness of metaphor which characterizes the speech of men familiar with that barbaric splendor of Eastern courts: "It's a cold day when I get left."
2010 Update: In legend, a knot that so frustrated attempts to unwind it that Alexander the Great was inspired to cut it with a sword. The memory of the Gordion Knot is often used as a pedagogical device to describe a problem so complex that only common sense can solve it.