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Jormungandr, the Snakebot of Doom has left New York. The world's armies and air forces have been decimated and cannot stop it. It has moved on from New York, and has flattened the following North American cities by rolling sideways over them:

  1. New York City/Jersey City
  2. Boston
  3. Montreal
  4. Toronto
  • Buffalo
  1. Philadelphia
  2. Pittsburgh
  3. Cleveland
  4. Chicago
  5. Minneapolis
  6. Indianapolis
  7. Atlanta
  8. Miami
  • Mobile
  1. Houston
  2. Dallas
  3. Oklahoma City
  • Albuquerque
  1. Los Angeles
  2. San Francisco
  3. Seattle
  4. Calgary

Buffalo, Mobile and Albuquerque were not destroyed by Jormungandr rolling sideways over them. Jormungandr passed through these cities at high speed in its hoop configuration causing significant damage over a relatively narrow track.

Jormungandr had not passed through deep water at any point in this route, travelling north from New York to avoid Long Island Sound, and has skirted the northern edge of the Gulf of Mexico, passing through Mobile in the process.

From Calgary, Jormungandr has headed north-west in the general direction of Anchorage and/or the Bering Strait.

Jormungandr's Path: NYC to Calgary & beyond.

At this point in time global intelligence agencies believe that Jormungandr has (and has had prior to its appearance in NYC) access to non-secure communications including the global internet, and that it has some sort of global visual surveillance network, probably involving birds.

The published story so far can be found here.

Given this background, the question (in three parts) is this:

  1. Why is Jormungandr targeting the cities above?
  2. To which city in the world is Jormungandr going next, and how will it get there?
  3. How easy was it to determine its next destination?

My problem is that while I know where Jormungandr is going and why, I'm writing about intelligence analysts who don't have any way of knowing what Jormungandr is thinking, and these people are trying to predict Jormungandr's movements. I'm too close to the problem, and knowing the answer, I am finding it hard to put myself in the shoes of someone ignorant. My worldbuilding problem is whether it's going to take sophisticated computer analysis to predict Jormungandr's next move, or if it is relatively obvious what Jormungandr is doing. The Worldbuilding SE community can help me by trying to answer this question. How readily a correct answer is given will determine how easily my characters will be able to work it out.

If finding the answer(s) is particularly difficult, I can drop hints in response to comments.

Edit:

The answer to this puzzle is about features that all the cities on the map above have, and none of the other cities on the map have (in 2017 when the story happens). New York/Jersey Cities had the most of them (even in 2017), which is why they were the first cities steamrolled.

Also, for all that it has been targeting militarily important sites with its railguns, and has steamrolled the numbered cities above flat, it apparently hasn't targeted human electricity generation/transmission or communications gear. Maybe it likes to listen to us talk...

Edit 2:

Jormungandr has been browsing the internet, and has used a particular group of Wikipedia pages to get the list of targets at which to make its demonstrations of destruction. All the cities on the map above are listed in a single Wikipedia page.

Edit 3

It's a readily visible difference that all the target cities have and the non-target cities do not have. Jormungandr is trying to make a point to humanity in the only way that its programming allows: 'I can do this to your _____, and you can't stop me.'

Edit 4

Remember that Jormungandr is interested in buildings, down to anything 'more sophisticated than a tent'. What is it about the buildings (or even some of the buildings) in the target cities that the other cities in the map area don't have that would make it want to conduct one of its demonstrations there?

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    $\begingroup$ This reads more like a question of how to write your story so that your audience can pick up on the signals rather that constructing the facts of your world. It seems like you know the facts of your world and are asking how to present them. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jan 24, 2022 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ This is definitely not about the presentation of facts. This question seems to be more about figuring out the method of prediction and decision making. If it is about methodology, I would suggest rewording the questions. || I think there is not enough information about data and means (computers, manpower, methodology, etc.) that the analysts have access to. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jan 24, 2022 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ I can't say what the intelligence community would think, but I would notice Minneapolis as an odd data point. It went to far out of its way... $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Jan 24, 2022 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ Minneapolis or Indianapolis* $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Jan 24, 2022 at 22:29
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    $\begingroup$ I vote to close as it's story based. The story dictates alien adolescents programmed engineering nanomachines to build and maintain it, as well as giving the mandate to flatten any human infrastructure bigger than a tent. As it's already ignoring this by leaving some cities partly standing it's not following it's mandate blindly. That means it's fully plot related. The justification is at the author. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Jan 25, 2022 at 14:55

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Unless I missed a bigger city with the key ingredient, our friendly Snake of Doom is plotting to destroy the few tall buildings in Whitehorse (should take only a few minutes) before heading over to Edmonton.

Edit 2 provided info needed to find the page. Then it was just a matter of constructing the correct query. I had to put in about 8 or 9 cities to get the results down to one page.

Should I tell everyone or do you want to?

Update: I'm holding off on describing my Google-Fu until I nail this answer. The snakebot skipped Whitehorse and Edmonton (and Charlotte) for reasons unknown.

It's now on course for the Bering Straight. If it makes it across, it's going to turn in a southerly direction towards a very high concentrate of snake bait.

The first potential target is Khabarovsk. From there, it's a bit of a toss up between Harbin and Vladivostok. After that, there are quite a few more snake lures nearby, including one just south of Harbin.

Update the second: My method of selecting my first wikipedia page was to put a list of about 6 of the cities, each in quotes, followed by specifying the site. I expanded the number of cities until I hit a very promising page that had several more of thi cities on it.

In Google or another search engine, it looks like this:

”city" ”another city”...”raccoon city” site:en.wikipedia.com

This was my promising page: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streetcars_in_North_America

Foolishly, I didn't search it for ALL of the cities and a few were missing. Cross referencing with elevated trains helped some, but created new problems of non-crushed cities.

I've repeated the search with all the cities. Each of the pages I've found have a number of equally valid North American targets that didn't get crushed.

So, to the people of Whitehorse, Edmonton, Vladivostok, Vladivostok, and Harbin, the bad news is that I was wrong. The good news is that you can all safely return to your non-flat domiciles.

As for the rest of Asia, Europe, and Africa, I have a small suggestion. Now might be a very good time to flee to the countryside for a relaxing vacation.

I'm not sure which is more disappointing. Not finding the answer or not getting to shout STELLA!!!! had my theory been proven correct. 😄

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  • $\begingroup$ If you think it is sky scrappers that is wrong. I need to check if it is wooden skyscrapers though. $\endgroup$
    – user64888
    Jan 26, 2022 at 13:22
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    $\begingroup$ Buildings over some threshold height appeared to be the answer (Phoenix's tallest building doesn't compare to those in the other target cities) except that Charlotte, NC, should have been destroyed if that was the criteria for destruction. $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2022 at 13:26
  • $\begingroup$ Tall buildings are what get destroyed when the snake arrives, but the snake isn't drawn to the city by tall buildings. $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2022 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ I am also using Wikipedia searching to try and find the page. But I haven't been able to get an and to work and search in the tables. $\endgroup$
    – user64888
    Jan 26, 2022 at 13:47
  • $\begingroup$ @CharlieHershberger - I tried Wikipedia's search first. It failed. I'm about to wander off to bed, but promise to do an edit showing how I made Wikipedia confess what page it was tomorrow. I just hope Monty Wild tells us how the people of Charlotte convinced the snake to skip them. $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2022 at 14:02
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It has a grudge against the FBI. Most of the US cities affected had field offices there (I didn't check every last one). This doesn't explain the Canada offices, but I'll assume you can argue for some Canadian equivalent for some of those large cities. Was it programmed by Terry Nichols as a side project? Took a while to grow up, I suppose.

Next stop is Anchorage.

Alternative: it is targeting internet facilities. Typically American internet companies' main hubs are laid out around FBI or NSA buildings like baby rats suckling, so this might produce a similar pattern.

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice try, but no. Have a look at the edit to the question,and see if you want to change anything here. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Jan 25, 2022 at 0:41
  • $\begingroup$ Think... how is Anchorage different to the cities that got steamrolled? $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Jan 25, 2022 at 0:45
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Traffic congestion

First step - looking at the highest population cities and looking at the cities that were hit. Phoenix, Arizona immediately jumped out as an anomaly that wasn't hit despite being close to the route of destruction and the fifth-highest population city in the US. Portland, Oregon would also have been a minor deviation on the way to destroying Seattle.

Looking at Phoenix's wikipedia article, it seemed to have at least some of everything that the other cities have. Until...

While being the fifth most populous city in the nation, Phoenix's freeways do not suffer from the same type of congestion seen in other large cities. In fact, in a recent study, there is not a single stretch of freeway in Phoenix ranked in the 100 worst freeways for either congestion or unreliability.

Looking at Portland, it seems to also have some really well-planned roadways. In contrast, when I went to NYC a few years ago the traffic was atrocious, generally moving slower than I could walk - this was for the entire trip in a taxi from the city centre to the airport! So I could easily believe that New York has more of the most-congested roadways than any other city. Los Angeles definitely would also make it onto the list.

Calvary looked like an anomaly, but when I ran a search the top result was an article explaining how Calvary really isn't that bad compared to so many other cities around the world, so stop complaining!

I haven't the time to check all the cities that were hit vs those that weren't to see where they rate on the congestion index, so take this as a guess after a bit of superficial research by an occasional visitor to the US. If it's wrong, hopefully it will at least get other people with local knowledge thinking about why Phoenix survived, as it seems to have lots of people, international airport, high-rises, military bases, education, railways etc etc just like all the other places that were hit.

Edit: I have no idea which the next city is in the general path that has highly congested traffic patterns - that's something else I'll leave to someone else.

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  • $\begingroup$ If it was massive traffic jams, Orlando should have been crushed twice. 😄 $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2022 at 5:53
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, it isn't congestion. It's something that every city numbered on the list has, and every other city on the map in the question does not have. The next target city is not on the map, obviously... and may not even be on the continent. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Jan 25, 2022 at 5:56
  • $\begingroup$ Are you certain that Charlotte, North Carolina wasn't hit? There's a really obvious answer, but Charlotte's absence from the list rules that answer out. $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2022 at 8:32
  • $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055 - Maybe the people of Charlotte figured it out and offered sacrifices to appease the snake. 😄 $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2022 at 13:02
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This is going to take a long time, so let's list what it is not.

  1. Sky scrappers: Las Vegas has a skyscraper.
  2. Museums, banks, art halls, Las Vegas has all of these things
  3. Position has no effect, snake runs all over the country, so the cities matter
  4. Rivers, St. Louis is on a river
  5. Bridges, see St. Louis again
  6. Not power plants, St. Louis has those
  7. Population, San Antonio is not on the list
  8. Not highways, Las Vegas has a highway

What it might be but it is hard to tell

  1. Minorities, when looking through Wikipedia's list of cities, since we know it is on a Wikipedia list of cities there are dozens of thing relating to minority populations.
  2. something tangentially related to the water, that isn't a binary. snake avoids water, but also rolls over it.
  3. The actual city names, there might be a list of cities with strange names that is the list that is on Wikipedia.
  4. This is somehow a list of skyscrapers near water. So it is a combination of two things.
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  • $\begingroup$ The comments and responses so far from the OP are that this is a binary - the targets and all the targets have X. Not "more of X", as with the congested traffic areas I proposed, but an absolute. So it can't be, for instance, the most rats, or pigeons, or left-handed, red-haired soccer players. Give the link to birds and that all the cities would have had zoos, is there a particular species in captivity in zoos in those cities and only in those cities? Maybe avian, maybe a reptile, but definitely rare in captivity. $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2022 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, all the targeted cities are on a particular Wikipedia list. Las Vegas isn't on that list despite having skyscrapers... but considering skyscrapers is heading in the right direction. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Jan 26, 2022 at 23:36
  • $\begingroup$ Also, Jormungandr is currently avoiding the sea, even though it came to NYC from the sea. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Jan 26, 2022 at 23:49

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