I see a few categories of IV questions:
1a) fundamentals — Some Wall St (also in Asia) tough interviews like deep, low-level (not obscure) topics like threading, memory, vtbl, RB-tree ..
1b) lang — Some (IMO mediocre) interviewers (like programming language lawyers) focus on language details unrelated to 1a)
2) Some (IMO mediocre) interviewers like architecture or high level design questions (excluding algo designs) like OO rules and patterns but I feel these are not so tough.
3) algo — Some tough interviews focus on algo problem solving in pseudo-code. See http://bigblog.tanbin.com/2007/09/google-interviews-apply-comp-science.html. I got these at Google and Facebook. Some quants get these too.
4) compiler coding question — is another tough interview type, be it take-home, onsite or webex.
With some exceptions (like easy coding questions), each of these skills is somewhat “ivory tower” i.e. removed from everyday reality, often unneeded in commercial projects. However these skills (including coding) are heavily tested by the smartest employers, the most respected companies including Google, Facebook, Microsoft… You and I may feel like the little boy in “emperor’s new dress”, but these smart guys can’t all be wrong.
I will again predict that coding questions would grow more popular as the logistic cost is driven down progressively.
Candidate screening is tough, time consuming and, to some extent, hit-and-miss. With all of these screening strategies, the new hire still can fail on TECHNICAL ground. Perhaps she/he lacks some practical skills — Code reading; debugging using logs; automation scripts; tool knowledge (like version control, text search/replace tools, build tools, and many linux commands)
Needless to say, new hire more often fail on non-technical ground like communication and attitude — another topic altogether.
In terms of real difficulty, toughest comp science problems revolve around algorithm and data structures, often without optimal solutions. Algo interview questions are the mainstay at big tech firms, but not on Wall St. Some say “Practice 6 months”. Second toughest would be coding questions —
* Often there’s too little time given
* Sometimes interviewer didn’t like our style but onsite coding tends to focus on substance rather than style.