What is the answer to this puzzle?
? -> ______
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The answer to this puzzle is
The string of letters above slowly made me think of ISO-3 codes for countries. And indeed, the string can be divided into five sets of three:
TZA AUT SRB TUR ZMB
which are the ISO-3 codes for Tanzania, Austria, Serbia, Turkey, and Zambia respectively.
And as it turns out,
Each 3x3 box with a bold-outlined cell in the middle represents a set of nine countries: The bold-outlined cell represents one country, and the eight cells surrounding the bold-outlined cell are the eight countries bordering that country in real life. The letters these cells contain are the countries' first letters, and are alphabetized left to right then top to bottom.
For example, Zambia is bordered by Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. And these eight first letters - A, B, D, M, M, N, T, and Z - surround the bottom middle bold-outlined cell (so it is represented by Zambia).
From left to right, then top to bottom, the bold-outlined cells are represented by Austria, Tanzania, Serbia (if Kosovo were considered a part of it then it borders Albania as well, which is why there is an A instead of a K in the surrounding cells), Turkey, and Zambia.
And since there are six countries each bordered by eight countries, the missing one is therefore France, represented by the bottom right bold-outlined box. (Hence the "- - - - - - -" represents a seven-letter word: country.) And indeed, the surrounding letters, A, B, G, I, L, M, S, and S, correspond to Andorra, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, Spain, and Switzerland respectively, which all border mainland France.