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A minor error has been noted. The first line should be Moscow. The puzzle as shown is correct.

The final answer is a single word.


January 18

The world ended today. Not with a bang, but a whimper–it sounds so cliché, but it's the only way to describe what happened. All our preparations were for naught because the elite team we assembled to fight for us were too busy playing around instead of taking action.

I've compiled a list of when our operatives called us this morning to report the bad news. When Washington reported that they had fallen, I knew it was all over and that humanity had lost. Hopefully this record will help future civilizations piece together what happened and realize that inaction is not the answer.

– Brenda F.

enter image description here


Text version:

Moscow
Milan
Lagos
Essen
Tokyo
Hong Kong
Atlanta
Seoul
Khartoum
Beijing
San Francisco
Cairo
London
Buenos Aires
Sydney
Chennai
Cairo
London
San Francisco
Khartoum
Milan
Seoul
Hong Kong
Buenos Aires
Sydney
Beijing
Mexico City
Mexico City
Sydney
Karachi
Sydney
Mexico City
Karachi
London
Seoul
Khartoum
Chennai
Cairo
Hong Kong
San Francisco
Beijing
Buenos Aires
Washington
Washington

Hint 1:

Either the text version or the picture version could provide the needed information for the puzzle on their own.

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  • 3
    $\begingroup$ If Montreal and few other cities were added, I'd have thought this was a reference to the board game Pandemic $\endgroup$ – Adib Nov 11 '17 at 2:48
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    $\begingroup$ For anyone, looking for the map: imgur.com/a/t50xk $\endgroup$ – Invariance Nov 11 '17 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Adib: That's a good observation. Essen stands out as a rather odd choice for representing Germany / Central Europe in that game and it's on the list in the question. The flavour text seems to fit, too. $\endgroup$ – M Oehm Nov 11 '17 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ I realized a minor error in the puzzle. The first line should be Moscow. $\endgroup$ – Aranlyde Nov 14 '17 at 3:11
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    $\begingroup$ @DqwertyC I'm fairly certain it's a Pandemic reference. The flavor text seems to indicate that "When Washington reported they had fallen, I knew that it was all over", which parallels the OUTBREAK event, and the lose condition of the game. Since Washington is the last on the list, I assume the last cubes were placed in Washington, triggering the loss condition. So I definitely agree with the city name = place cube on that city, in that order. Have you tried with the new Moscow edit? $\endgroup$ – AZGreenTea Nov 14 '17 at 4:55
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Thanks to M Oehm for finding (what I think) is the final answer:

Medicant

It seems fairly clear that the puzzle is at least related to

The board/deck game Pandemic.

We initially thought this because

All the cities mentioned are in the game, even when there are better known cities not in the game in similar locations.

With this in mind

I decided to see what would happen if the list of cities was a list of cities that got infected in the game. In Pandemic, when a city gets infected, it gains a cube of that disease color. If it already has 3 cubes when its supposed to gain another, all of the neighboring cities are infected. This is called an "Outbreak". Once the eighth outbreak occurs, the game is lost. (There's a lot of other ways to lose, but those aren't relevant right now.

Additionally, the first 3 cities each game start with 3 cubes, and the next 3 start with 2 cubes. There's also a special event called an Epidemic, where some city that hasn't been infected yet gains 3 cubes. After an epidemic, the cities that have already been infected can be infected again. I used this to find where the epidemics were in the list of cities given.

With that explanation, here's an annotated list of the cities:

Moscow
Milan
Lagos
Essen
Tokyo
Hong Kong
Atlanta
Seoul
Khartoum
Beijing
San Francisco
Cairo
London
Buenos Aires
Sydney
Chennai
Cairo
London
San Francisco
Khartoum
Milan
Seoul
Hong Kong
Buenos Aires
Sydney
Beijing
Mexico City
Mexico City
Sydney
Karachi
Sydney
Mexico City
Karachi
London
Seoul
Khartoum
Chennai
Cairo
Hong Kong
San Francisco
Beijing
Buenos Aires
Washington
Washington

Cities in italics are where epidemics occurred, and cities in bold are where the outbreaks occurred. As you can see, the eight outbreak was in Washington, on the last listed turn. This signifies the loss of the game.

Using those cities in bold...

Taking the 1st letter of the 1st city, the 2nd letter of the 2nd city, and so on, we get "medicant," which dictionary.com defines as "a healing substance." This fits with the theme of the puzzle, and is a single word, so probably the answer!

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  • $\begingroup$ The one-word answer could be "Pandemic". Usually, I'd try to get some code out of the list of cities, but I think it's unlikely that a valid playthrough of Pandemic could also be some encoded word. $\endgroup$ – M Oehm Nov 14 '17 at 21:06
  • $\begingroup$ @MOehm I'd think so too, but it would have still been a valid play-through before the OP changed the first city to Moscow, so it's probably a bit less straightforward. $\endgroup$ – DqwertyC Nov 14 '17 at 21:13
  • $\begingroup$ The game is, but the keyword is not "Pandemic". $\endgroup$ – Aranlyde Nov 14 '17 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ Ah, okay, that makes sense. Sorry about that. But I'll note that the first letter of the city of the first outbreak, the second letter of the second outbreak and so on gives "medicant", so maybe all is not lost. $\endgroup$ – M Oehm Nov 14 '17 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ @MOehm Hmm that's odd. That seems like a single word related to the context of the puzzle for some reason. $\endgroup$ – Aranlyde Nov 14 '17 at 22:08

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