### Altered States 2

##### June 2024 : Puzzle

A little while ago we asked solvers to smoosh as many of the 50 U.S. states into a 5-by-5 grid as possible.

Now we’re at it again! Once more, your goal is to score as many points as possible by placing U.S. states in a 5-by-5 grid.

• States can be spelled by making King’s moves from square to square. (See the example.)
• This time around, the score for a state is its population in the 2020 U.S. Census. So, for example, CALIFORNIA scores 39,538,223 points.
• In the true spirit of the puzzle’s title, you may “alter” the name of a state by at most one letter. “Altering” a state means replacing a letter with another letter. (So NEWPORK, NEWYORF, and NEWYORK would all score for NEWYORK, but NEWYRK and NEWYROK would not.)
• If a state appears multiple times in your grid, it only scores once.

The 3-by-3 example above scores 32,913,047 points, for Illinois (Inlinois), Ohio, Utah (Atah), Iowa (Ioha), and Idaho (Ieaho).

To send in your entry, please render your grid as one unbroken 25-digit string by concatenating the rows. (The 3-by-3 grid from the example would be “thoainesl”.)

To qualify for the leaderboard, your entry must score at least half of the available points. (So: at least 165,379,868.)

Beyond that requirement, the local tourism authority has established awards for particularly special boards, using the following citations:

• 20S: visits at least 20 states
• 200M: scores at least 200 million
• PA: visits Pennsylvania
• M8: contains all 8 states that begin with an M
• 4C: contains the “Four Corners” states
• NOCAL: avoids California
• C2C: contains a coast-to-coast1 chain
1. “Coast-to-coast” means “East coast to West coast”. States in the chain must have positive joint border length (e.g. Arizona-to-Colorado would not count as a “step” in the chain); “East coast” states range from Florida (southernmost) to Maine (northernmost).