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In the movie Spaceballs, when Spaceball-1 achieves Ludicrous Speed, Lone Star states that they've

Gone to plaid

Why plaid?

enter image description here

  • 39
    Given that it's a Mel Brooks movie, probably because it sounded completely silly. – Omegacron Jul 14 '15 at 20:46
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    maybe linked to the crazy color effects shown to indicate more-than-lightspeed in some old sf movies? – Olivier Dulac Jul 14 '15 at 21:22
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    Why not plaid ? – Kevin Jul 14 '15 at 21:33
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    @Kevin Because "They've gone to gingham" would be more alliterative and thus more cool. – Etheur Jul 14 '15 at 21:43
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    Plaid? Because it's a joke, and if it needs to be explained, it's not funny. – Major Stackings Jul 15 '15 at 3:01
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My Own Speculation:

I had always assumed that "Plaid" was a reference to the stripe effect we see when ships make the jump to light speed in Star Wars:

enter image description here

It is an iconic image and everyone recognizes it immediately upon seeing it. I suggest that Mel Brooks took this reasonable depiction of what a sudden increase in speed would look like, and came up with an absurd equivalent to it: Star Wars goes stripy, so Spaceballs goes plaid.

In fact, as Hypnosifl has pointed out, the Star Wars striped effect is shown in Spaceballs as well, just before the ship goes plaid. The stripes appear at 1:43, and the stripe-to-plaid changeover happens at about 2:00 in the following clip:

If I am correct, this would be entirely logical: Spaceballs is a parody of Space Operas in general, but it is also a parody of Star Wars in particular. As such, this amounts to one of many direct references to Star Wars.

This quote from the novelization appears to support this theory:

With an ear-shattering roar, the Spaceball Cruiser leaped into light speed. In the Cruiser's vast windscreen, the sky full of stars became stripes of white light.
"Your seat belt, sir," Sandurz tried to warn his leader. But the roar of the ship drowned out his plea.
The Cruiser jolted forward, moving from light speed to ridiculous speed. The white stripes were joined by stripes of many colors. The ship began to vibrate violently.
"Ssseat belllt...." Sandurz continued his attempts to warn Dark Helmet.
This time, his voice was drowned out by a warning siren. The ship began to vibrate as if it were inside a blender and someone had pushed puree!
LUDICROUS SPEED!
Dark Helmet's eyes bugged out of his head. Outside the windscreen, the stripes weaved themselves together - and formed plaid!
- Spaceballs: The Book, by Jovial Bob Stine

  • 2
    Yeah, I think this explanation is more likely than the ones Praxis mentioned, for the simple reason that Brooks wants the audience to actually get his jokes rather than throw in obscure references that only a tiny fraction will understand. – Hypnosifl Jul 15 '15 at 13:26
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    @Hypnosifl : That's a fair point. I should emphasize that only the last one I mentioned is my own. About that one (the slang construction): Brooks does use rhyming slang in Men in Tights and is known to be very fond of it. So it's hard to say if he really is worried about people not "getting" such things. The "gone to plaid" sounds funny regardless of whether the joke is understood, and has entertained many a folk whether they have thought about its meaning or not. That being said, Wad's answer is as good and plausible as any, I've already +1'ed it! – Praxis Jul 15 '15 at 15:09
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    @Praxis - With Men In Tights, was rhyming slang used as the punchline of jokes in a way that audiences wouldn't be able to get the joke if they weren't familiar with specific real-world bits of rhyming slang? – Hypnosifl Jul 15 '15 at 22:46
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    @Hypnosifl : I'll have to read a script or re-watch it. We can all agree that "gone to plaid" is funny, but look at ourselves: each one of us (including the people cited from other forums) has a genuinely different interpretation of the "meaning" behind the joke... – Praxis Jul 15 '15 at 23:02
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    @Wad Cheber - BTW, rereading your answer I see you just says it could be a reference to the stripey effect seen in Star Wars, but it's worth noting that Brooks actually includes a visual of that same stripey effect in Spaceballs, see 1:43 in the video here. Then the "plaid" sort of visually evolves out of the stripes at 2:06. I think this makes an even stronger case for your explanation that it's just a silly visual play on the initial stripes, so you might consider adding this clip to your answer. – Hypnosifl Jul 16 '15 at 17:42
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+100

Speculations of others...

As also mentioned in @MatthewFrontino's answer, a variant of this question was asked over at the other forum:

User @MattD provided an out-of-universe answer that was accepted, which I will quote here:

It's a play on the phrase, "They've gone to warp," from Star Trek, and the warp trail effect a ship causes when it goes to warp speed.

The ship has hit ludicrous speed, so they chose a "ludicrous color" such as plaid to represent that.

(Source)

However, user @BrettFromLA provides an answer that, while not the accepted one, is also interesting:

There's also an old Warner Bros. cartoon that uses this reference. There are 2 mice being chased by a hypochondriac cat. At one point, the smart mouse says, "He's turning pink!" The cat is frightened and turns pink. The mouse says, "He's turning blue!" The scared cat turns blue. The dumb mouse says, "He's turning ... plaid!" The cat suddenly gets kilt-colored and Scottish bagpipe music plays.

So it COULD be a reference to this cartoon. But I have no evidence.

(Source)

A variant of the question was asked on yet another forum. The provided answer overlaps with MattD's answer above, but also adds the following point:

It is also referencing 2001: A Space Odyssey, where this "tartan" effect occurs when Dave is in the pod towards the end of the film.

(Source)

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Canon and official sources (or lack thereof)...

Everything cited above is speculative in nature. None of the individuals responsible for those observations seem to have any special relationship to Spaceballs (at least not at first glance).

I have attempted to find an official explanation — notes in the screenplay, interviews with Mel Brooks or others associated with the film, etc. — but I couldn't find anything of substance.

I also used Google's Ngram Viewer and Google Books to locate variations of the phrase "going plaid", "gone to plaid", etc. in printed works up to and including the year 1987, but again I could find nothing of substance.

My own speculation: Warp + Weft = Plaid

Plaid patterns are made by combining two types of weave, warp and weft, at right angles to one another.

My suspicion is that "gone to plaid" is a play on "gone to warp", resulting from a transformation of the form gone to warp --> gone to warp and weft --> gone to plaid.

Adding a bit of weft to one's warp might be just the thing to create the desired level of ludicrousness.

It is certainly plausible, given that Mel Brooks is no stranger to word play:

Veteran comedy writer, actor and director Mel Brooks promises to make his audience laugh when he performs his first one-man show in London this month...

He will also sing songs and reminisce about his love affair with London which began when he was on leave from mine defusing duties with American forces in France in the Second World War and learned Cockney rhyming slang from the cab drivers.

(Source)

Of course, the transformation above is not Cockney rhyming slang (notably, there is no rhyme) — but Brooks, being American, can be allowed some liberty.

The following research article also delves into Brooks' love of word play, by discussing the challenges of translating Spaceballs and Men in Tights into Polish:

Unfortunately, the article does not shed any light on word play in "gone to plaid" (it ignores "gone to plaid" altogether).

  • As I commented on the answer below, I'm a bit dubious about the quote from MattD. On the other hand, I very much like the reference from BrettfromLA. – Valorum Jul 14 '15 at 22:53
  • @Richard : I've updated the answer significantly. – Praxis Jul 14 '15 at 23:26
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    The first time I saw the movie, I didn't think anything of it, but the second time, I thought of the possibility of a word play on warp as a term in weaving, hence the connection to plaid. Getting there via cockney rhyming slang never occurred to me, but it all sounds plausible to me. – Anthony X Jul 14 '15 at 23:48
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    It may well be a play on the word "warp" (as well as the visual effect), but if Brooks learned some Cockney rhyming slang, he'd know that "gone to plaid" is not rhyming slang for "gone to warp". The construction is completely wrong. Central to RS (indeed, right there in the name :-) ) is the concept of rhyming. Very hard to come up with RS for "gone to warp" as virtually nothing rhymes with "warp". Closest I can come is "tarp" which is either vaguely close or nowhere near it depending on your accent. :-) So "They've gone to builder's" (builder's => builder's tarp => warp). – T.J. Crowder Jul 15 '15 at 8:54
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    @WadCheber : You could very well be right. I wish we could combine our answers somehow...on the other hand, without an official source and with just speculation on everyone's part, it's not like an answer can be accepted anyway. It's like we're helping each other to build a "gone to plaid" speculation wiki! :-) – Praxis Jul 15 '15 at 22:56
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The joke here is to pick a color that reflects the satire that there exists a speed that exceeds light speed known in the movie as ludicrous speed

Plaid is merely a joke that it is so fast that exceeds the color spectrum altogether. This Movies & TV Stack Exchange answer here reflects the fact that this is a joke and speculates at the origin of plaid as opposed to any other pattern (credit to MattD on Movies & TV Stack Exchange):

It's a play on the phrase, "They've gone to warp," from Star Trek, and the warp trail effect a ship causes when it goes to warp speed.

The ship has hit ludicrous speed, so they chose a "ludicrous color" such as plaid to represent that.

  • This seems very speculative indeed. – Valorum Jul 14 '15 at 22:25
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    The same question exists on movie exchange and got upvoted 7 times with the same answer. Don't quite get it – MAF Jul 14 '15 at 22:26
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    I'd prefer an answer that isn't solely based on the opinion of someone who has no connection with the film. – Valorum Jul 14 '15 at 22:30
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    Star Wars/Star Trek tried to make an actual attempt at space travel. Spaceballs is a PARODY and therefore makes no attempt at describing reality. The only factual answer you are going to get, is the one from the comedians themselves who created it – MAF Jul 14 '15 at 22:34
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    And the fact that it got downvoted from you of all people, is a turn-off to this forum altogether. Really, not cool – MAF Jul 14 '15 at 22:36
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My assumption was that it was a joke on doppler shift color change, especially given that their jamming methodology is both plausible and funny this just seemed to fit with the sciencepun setting. No references than any good description of doppler shift.

0

IMO, it's a joke about "alerts" - from amber to red to...plaid. That's just how fast they're going - it's too dangerous for red alert! In turn, it might be inspired by Star Trek's red flashing lights on the bridge when things are getting tense, including exceeding normal warp speed.

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