by Sarah Bagby and Vera Tobin
Problem: New Year’s Town/​Holi Town

Solvers are presented with a list of 11 recipes in alphabetical order and a set of recipe reviews, 42 in all.

Each review has a summary header and a reviewer location in addition to the review itself, which describes the more or less bizarre modification(s) the reviewer felt compelled to make. But they’re not tied to any particular recipe; solvers need to do that.

Solvers should notice that the review headers begin with 11 distinct letters and group the reviews by these letters. This aha should be facilitated by the caribou reviews, which announce themselves as a set and, of course, all have the same initial header letter.

Solvers should then alphabetize the sets of reviews by header letter. Within sets, order alphabetically by reviewer location (this is also the order given).

Solvers then need to figure out what on earth the substitutions are all about—they are giving instructions for transforming the recipe names into a cluephrase.

There are only a few rules:

  • The first reviewer replaces actual things that the recipe would call for with other things. Subsequent reviewers may replace actual things that the recipe would call for OR treat substrings of the transformed recipe name as ingredients and replace them.
  • If no quantifier is given (“natto”), use the whole string. If there’s a quantifier (“a bit of daikon”, “a spoonful of sugar”), use the first letter, unless the quantifier or other indicator suggests otherwise (“half a wheel of Edam” = ED; “filleted shad” = SH, AD).
  • Reviews can also manipulate non-food substrings: e.g., if you unpin “pinto bean salad”, you’re left with “to bean salad”. (This category is kept to a minimum.)
  • When a review references a step (“at the end of the second step”, “in the first step”), apply the transformation to the indicated word of the recipe name.
  • When the output of a review’s transformation(s) contains non-words, the reviewer hates the recipe. When it contains only words but is an intermediate step, the reviewer is nonplussed (“The result was . . . all right? I guess? But it needs some work”). When it contains only words and is the final state for that recipe, the reviewer loves it.

Leaning on the first rule to help match up recipes to sets of reviews, apply the transformations. With recipes in alphabetical order by cook location, the result is:

Header letterRecipeCluephrase
GPinto bean saladTO BE ALL
HTurmeric and garlic chickenRICH AND
IBream with herb butterCREAMY BUT
LWhite grape lemonadeWHEN I MADE
NTuna sandwichTHIS WITH
OPasta carbonaraCAROB
RSand tartsAND A
SPetit foursCARIBOU
TSteam-basted eggsIT TASTED

You don’t want a filthy-tasting dessert made with carob and a caribou, you want rich and creamy CHOCOLATE MOUSSE.

Below, we show the chain of transformations each review clues. Green letters within reviews are those inserted into the recipe name by the review transformations; red letters within reviews are those removed; orange letters in recipe names are those affected by transformations so far.

Made this as directed except I replaced each cup of corn [CC] with a cup of Pepsi [PP] and subbed in a bit of daikon [D] for the sprig of tarragon [T] (picky family). I was really looking forward to enjoying this classic, traditional dish, but sorry, it was just foul. Real suffering here. Don’t waste your time on this oneby: A cook from Chicago

Since a previous reviewer said the flavor was bad, I omitted the measure of spices [DASH] and added a spoonful of sugar [S] instead. You know what? Still bad. This is just a bad recipe, I guess. Disappointingby: A cook from Oxnard

I’m not sure what everyone else is complaining about. I served this with half a wheel of Edam [ED] and it was fantastic. Delicious for any occasionby: A cook from St. Louis


I made this exactly as described except I added natto [NATTO] at the end of the second step. The texture was beyond disgusting. Ruined our evening, guests were horrified, such a disappointment. I had seen this recommended but I am going to unpin [PIN] it for sure. Blech. Gross, just grossby: A cook from Flagstaff

I know it comes from a fruit and everything but I just hate having dyes in my food, you know? Anyway I can’t figure out why anyone would want a salad to be orange. Whatever, I skipped it [ANNATTO]. The result was . . . all right? I guess? But it needs some work. Getting somewhere, maybe?by: A cook from Ithaca

Even with the previous reviewers’ modifications I could tell this still needed a tweak, so I tried stirring in a dipper of honey [H] early in the last step. Nope, terrible. Gah, what a wasteby: A cook from Peoria

Filleted shad [SH, AD] seemed really out of place in this dish so I omitted it and served the rest on a leaf of lettuce [L]. Thanks so much for this recipe! Delicious! Great recipe!by: A cook from Virginia Beach


This really seemed like it wanted more earthy notes so I used the turmeric to coat half a beet [BE] in the first step. Bad plan. Bad recipe. Cannot recommend. Hated it by: A cook from Albuquerque

Tubers kind of creep me out so I skipped that part [TUBER]. I dunno, maybe I should get over the tuber thing, because this was definitely not good without it. Have to get over myself? by: A cook from Denver

I know SOME people on this site like killing animals but not me, thank you. I also can’t stand garlic so I made the vegan [CHICKEN] non-smelly [GARLIC] version. What a waste of time. Don’t bother. Horrible! by: A cook from Portland

I don’t know what’s wrong with some people that they have to go around insulting people just because they eat meat. Leave me out of it [ME]. Huffy people tire me by: A cook from Sheboygan

I tried plating this with a dollop of horseradish [H] at the center. Really pulled the whole dish together—highly recommended. Horseradish delight by: A cook from Tallahassee [RICH AND]

At the very beginning I replaced the piece of bay leaf [B] with a spoonful of chutney [C]. Tasted good when I checked so I added another spoonful [C] late in the second step. It all seemed like it ought to come out tasting reasonable, but it was just gross. So disappointing. Is it me? by: A cook from Cincinnati

It didn't specify which witch herb so I went with a little yarrow [WITCH HERB, Y]. An OK recipe, I guess, but honestly I think the dairy flavors here are overwhelming. It got eaten, whatever, but it’s not the best ever. Dial it back a little, guys! Interesting but kind of unbalanced by: A cook from Kansas City

I thought maybe finishing it off with a slice of nectarine [N] as garnish would help balance the flavor profile. Nope. Lost cause. It’s just not good by: A cook from St. Paul

What kind of monster came up with this? I almost didn’t make it at all but then just decided to omit the tern [TERN], and I’m glad I did—the result was nice and smooth with an unexpected twist. Will make again. I love MY version :) by: A cook from Tulsa


Followed the recipe for the most part but did make a few minor adjustments. I hate all the lemon bits so I added a straining step to get rid of them, but since I didn’t have cheesecloth I used some jeans from the rag bag and they shed all these little fibers, so instead of lemon [LEMON] I had a bunch of denim in there, the entire rear end and then some [NIM]. Undrinkable. Linty sadness :( by: A cook from Nashville

I was remembering a gin-and-it I had and wanted to do something kind of reminiscent, but I was out of vermouth so I skipped that part [IT]. Terrible. Less is NOT more by: A cook from Queens

Ugh, grape, why is it in so many things? Relying on grape for flavor is just lazy recipe writing. I skipped it [GRAPE] and I’m glad I did—this was really tasty. Love it by: A cook from Savannah


It was looking dry so I added gin [GIN] at the end of the first step. I did everything else as directed and it was awful. What were they thinking? Nothing I tried could save this one by: A cook from Boston

I couldn’t afford unagi so I left it out [UNAGI], along with the drizzle of niçoise dressing [N]. I sure hope this would have been better if I had left them in, because without them it was just blah. Needed something else by: A cook from Laramie

My husband didn't like the regular kind of gritty stuff [SAND] that was supposed to be in there, so I replaced it with his [HIS]. Still not great. Not so good by: A cook from New Orleans

Looking at this when it was nearly done the proportions just seemed off, so instead of a pinch of capers [C] I mixed in another scoop of tuna [T]. Delicious! Nice one! by: A cook from Springfield, IL


This looked waaaaay too fattening so I skipped the pasta [PASTA]. IDK how this happened but I wound up with a mess of raw eggs and bacon fat and cheese, even though I subbed a little pepper [P] for the second handful of romano [the second R]. Disgusting. Okay, who wrote this terrible recipe? by: A cook from South Beach

A whole cabbage [NAPA] seemed like way too much so I left it out altogether. Maybe cabbage funk was what this was missing? It didn’t taste good enough for me to try to figure it out. Over-rated by: A cook from Valparaiso

I lost my place in the recipe and added the rasher of bacon [B] after the slice of onion [O] instead of before. Success! On my top-ten list by: A cook from Wichita


My last roommate stole my measuring spoons so anytime a recipe calls for a teaspoon of anything [every T] I have to just skip it. Sometimes it’s fine but in this case? No. Recipe doesn't leave room for error by: A cook from Ann Arbor

I was making this for children so of course I omitted both cups of sugar [S, S], and then they were too impatient to let it cool so I added ice at the end [ICE]. The texture seemed kind of terrible to me, but at least the kids didn’t know any better. Really weird, but OK for kids by: A cook from Helena

I forgot to start the rice cooker early enough and I had guests coming, so I just left the rice [RICE] out altogether. It was great! Spare, minimal, unfussy. Random surprise success! by: A cook from Indianapolis


I can’t put this kind of shit in my body, I ignored the whole recipe [PETIT FOURS] and just ate caribou [CARIBOU] Sugar is bad for humans by: A cook from a cave

Literally just caribou, I didn’t even cook it So is flour by: A cook from like Lascaux or something

A whole caribou Society is built on a foundation of terrible foods! by: A cook from the paleolithic

On the veldt, no one used recipes! Just eat caribou. Seriously, go paleo!! by: A cook from the past, when men were men

The guy who runs my crossfit gym even makes his own caribou bacon Smoking meat is okay, *I guess* by: A cook from the tundra

[CARIBOU] or perhaps [BACON], doesn’t matter because . . .


How is steam even an ingredient? A little flavor please. Instead of steam [STEAM] I used mint [MINT]. It was weird but I think I’ll keep tinkering with it. Too bland as written by: A cook from Cleveland area

You know what, you don't even need the eggs [EGGS]. It’s a little out there still but I think it has promise. There's the possibility of something interesting here . . . by: A cook from Cleveland Heights

Still experimenting with this one, lord knows why. This time when it was time to add the water, instead of a spoonful of boiling [B] I just added a little tepid [T]. Maybe we’re starting to get somewhere? I told my daughter all about this and she thinks I’m cuckoo but I told her to try for herself and see. Tinkering continues . . . by: A cook from Cleveland Heights, OH

My mom told me how to do this and I wrote it all down but I had barely started cooking when my freakshow roommate literally STOLE AND ATE the first page of my notes [N]. Anyway I wound up forgetting the pat of margarine [M]. Now I make it that way all the time—so good!! This is THE ONE by: A cook from Columbus


I was worried that there wouldn’t be enough gluten for this to stretch out thin enough without tearing, so I added a cup of durum [D] in the first step. Dry, dry, dry. I could barely get a mouthful down. Unfortunate by: A cook from Atlanta

I don’t know, maybe this is just not for me? Because I am never going to find dodo at my grocery store, but without it [DODO] there was just very little going on here. Upsetting! Extinct ingredient??? by: A cook from Ft. Worth

I knew from other reviews that this needed some more flavor, so I added most of a bunch of thyme [THY] before the last step. Worked out great. Upgrade with herbs makes all the difference by: A cook from Walla-Walla