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# Is Planted Coloring Easier than Planted Clique?

*Proceedings of Thirty Sixth Conference on Learning Theory*, PMLR 195:5343-5372, 2023.

#### Abstract

We study the computational complexity of two related problems: recovering a planted q-coloring in G(n,1/2), and finding efficiently verifiable witnesses of non-q-colorability (a.k.a. refutations) in G(n,1/2). Our main results show hardness for both these problems in a restricted-but-powerful class of algorithms based on computing low-degree polynomials in the inputs.The problem of recovering a planted q-coloring is equivalent to recovering q disjoint planted cliques that cover all the vertices — a potentially easier variant of the well-studied planted clique problem. Our first result shows that this variant is as hard as the original planted clique problem in the low-degree polynomial model of computation: each clique needs to have size k >> sqrt(n) for efficient recovery to be possible. For the related variant where the cliques cover a (1-epsilon)-fraction of the vertices, we also show hardness by reduction from planted clique.Our second result shows that refuting q-colorability of G(n,1/2) is hard in the low-degree polynomial model when q >> n^{2/3} but easy when q << n^{1/2}, and we leave closing this gap for future work. Our proof is more subtle than similar results for planted clique and involves constructing a non-standard distribution over q-colorable graphs. We note that while related to several prior works, this is the first work that explicitly formulates refutation problems in the low-degree polynomial model.The proofs of our main results involve showing low-degree hardness of hypothesis testing between an appropriately constructed pair of distributions. For refutation, we show completeness of this approach: in the low-degree model, the refutation task is precisely as hard as the hardest associated testing problem, i.e., proving hardness of refutation amounts to finding a "hard" distribution.