We discuss an analysis of constraint satisfaction problems, such as sphere packing, K-SAT, and graph coloring, in terms of an effective energy landscape. Several intriguing geometrical properties of the solution space become in this light familiar in terms of the well-studied ones of rugged (glassy) energy landscapes. A benchmark algorithm naturally suggested by this construction finds solutions in polynomial time up to a point beyond the clustering and in some cases even the thermodynamic transitions. This point has a simple geometric meaning and can be in principle determined with standard statistical mechanical methods, thus pushing the analytic bound up to which problems are guaranteed to be easy. We illustrate this for the graph 3- and 4-coloring problem. For packing problems the present discussion allows to better characterize the J-point, proposed as a systematic definition of random close packing, and to place it in the context of other theories of glasses.