BELLE OF THE BALL
by Kaitlyn Chantry and Dan Katz
Solution: LEAP YEARS
Part of the flavortext is a quote from Cinderella. Accordingly, each tree represents a 16-team bracket from the NCAA men's basketball tournament of that year, with the apple and clock suggesting a Cinderella team (a low-seeded team that made it farther into the tournament than expected).
All of the brackets are arranged in the following standard seeding order from left to right:
One of the four teams with the seed represented by the apple was a Cinderella team, and lost in the game represented by the midnight clock (where the Cinderella story ends). Two teams made it to the Final Four and thus won the bracket shown… those two have a clock at the bottom of the tree. Villanova won the entire tournament and thus never had a midnight, so the 1985 tree has no clock.
Taking each team's seed (as hinted in the flavortext) and applying the modifier in the apple gives an index into the team's name; reading these letters in order spells LEAP YEARS.
1986 Cleveland State (-8) [14 - 8 = 6 = L]
1987 Providence (+1) [6 + 1 = 7 = E]
1999 Gonzaga (-3) [10 - 3 = 7 = A]
1998 Valparaiso (-9) [13 - 9 = 4 = P]
1990 Loyola Marymount (-1) [11 - 1 = 10 = Y]
2002 Kent State (-8) [10 - 8 = 2 = E]
1985 Villanova (+1) [8 + 1 = 9 = A]
2003 Butler (-6) [12 - 6 = 6 = R]
2006 George Mason (-2) [11 - 2 = 9 = S]