By Dan Katz

Half of the segments of this journey take place in modern-day Boston and its surrounding suburbs. The others take place in The Commonwealth, the post-nuclear-war version of the Boston area that appears in the video game Fallout 4. This is clued in several ways:

  • The first paragraph references The Commonwealth and SPECIAL (the trait system used in the Fallout games).
  • The date 98910 days in the future from January 1, 2017 is October 23, 2287, which is the date on which the events of Fallout 4 begin.
  • The puzzle ends with the phrase “War never changes,” the first words of every Fallout game.
  • The articles mentioned throughout the journey are cover articles from magazines in the game.
  • At one point the narrator gratuitously mentions, “I’m kind of into video games.”

The future portions of the journey are accurate within the game, but they can be traced out on a free online map such as this one, and most of the references about location details can be verified at Nukapedia. Whenever the narrator sneezes, they switch to a corresponding location in the game or in real-life (for example, from Harvard Square in modern-day Cambridge to the equivalent College Square in the Commonwealth).

During the journey, the narrator encounters who he refers to as his nine best friends (the “first-best” friend is referred to as the “number one” best friend, because “first-best” is a weird thing to say). Each of these friends is one of the companions the player can recruit to travel with them in the game. They are each reading a cover article from a magazine that can be found in the game. The magazine issue number (the magazines are all issues of Hot Rodder, Picket Fences, or U.S. Covert Operations Manual, each of which have issue numbers on their covers and thus a canonical ordering) as an index into the character’s name. (Each name is the single-word version of the name that appears above the character during gameplay, which is one reason that Nick Valentine didn’t make it into this puzzle. Sorry, Nick.) Sorted in order from best friend to ninth-best friend, these letters spell the answer, WANDERERS. In addition to the puzzle narrator being a wanderer, the protagonist in Fallout 3 is called the Lone Wanderer, and the song “The Wanderer” was used extensively in advertising for Fallout 4.

I was stuck at MIT over this past holiday break, and I don’t get off campus much, so on New Year’s Day I decided to take a special trip around the good old Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I started where the Mystery Hunt used to kick off (before it became too big) [Lobby 7] and then walked down a hall that seemed to go on forever. [The Infinite Corridor] At the end I was about to go outside, but it was too cold, so I hung a left and then a right, then walked straight until I reached a triangular building. [Building 66] At that point I bit the bullet and went outside, but I was getting tired of walking so I proceeded to the nearest subway station. [Kendall] I took the train two stops outbound, emerged from the station, [Harvard] and seeing the sun made me sneeze.

I probably should have mentioned that I have a weird condition; when I sneeze, I teleport to roughly the same location 98910 days into the future, and then when I sneeze again, I teleport back. It’s pretty inconvenient. This part of town looked a lot different in the future; the name was more generic, the stores were all closed, and there were significantly more radioactive zombies trying to murder me. [College Square, feral ghouls] So I ran southward to a barricaded building where it seemed likely I’d find trained people to help. [Cambridge Police Station] I didn’t get the best response (one of the people inside tried to recruit me to kill the zombies myself), but I did meet my ninth-best friend, who was reading an article titled “Not the Soldiers You’re Looking For.” [Danse, U.S. Covert Operations Manual #4: 9th letter of answer = S] I left the building and went north (walking a bit west first to get around the zombies), passing under a high overpass before I reached a large automobile factory. [Corvega Assembly Plant] I made my way around the factory and continued to a town. [Lexington] It was pretty quiet, but at least they had a big store. [Super Duper Mart] Rummaging through the foodstuffs, I stirred up some pepper and sneezed.

Back in the present, I was still in a grocery store in the same town, though it had a different name (albeit one that started with the same letter). [Stop & Shop in Lexington] I went out the front door and jacked a car. You know, like in Grand Theft Auto. I’m kind of into video games. Anyway, I left the parking lot, turned left onto the road, and immediately passed a restaurant on my left with a name starting with Q. [Qdoba] I drove in that direction for about three and a half miles, passing up a chance to get onto I-95, and then found myself in another town. [Bedford] I guess given the name of the street I was on, [Bedford St] my destination shouldn’t have been surprising. And then I sneezed.

Finding myself in the same town (though it seemed significantly smaller now) but no longer in a car, I started trudging west, reaching another town boasting a sense of history and a charming museum. [Concord] It also boasted a gang of violent bandits; I did my best to avoid them, but they looked kind of jittery, as if there had been a terrifying beast in this town not long ago. [Raiders, you battle a Deathclaw here early in the game] In the distance I could see a futuristic-looking red tower, so I followed the main road out of town toward it. I was disappointed to find the tower was just a gimmicky sign for a gas station, [Red Rocket Truck Stop] though I did meet my fourth-best friend here, who was reading an article titled “Flame Job!” [Dog (or Dogmeat), Hot Rodder #1: 4th letter of answer = D] I kept going in the same general direction, passing a statue of a colonial soldier and crossing a stream to reach a suburban ruin inhabited by, among other people, a kindly old drug-addicted psychic. [Sanctuary] This is where I met my number-one best friend, who was reading an article titled “Welcome Home.” [Codsworth, Picket Fences #5: 1st letter of answer = W] There was another fellow there also willing to be my friend, but he wouldn’t stop asking me to check on settlements for him, [Preston Garvey, who is the worst] so eventually I got exasperated and ventured south. After a while, I saw a large body of water ahead to the left and a smaller one ahead to the right. The radioactive water I’d previously waded through wasn’t treating me well, so I headed for the smaller body [Walden Pond] and was about to check out the cabin near the water when I sneezed.

Now instead of a cabin there were a bunch of stones noting where a cabin used to be, which seemed kind of backwards, but okay. [Walden Pond Cabin Site] I hiked north until I reached a major road, borrowed another car (which was challenging) and headed eastward, following signs mentioning the city in which I began my journey. [MA-2 E] I went almost five miles and then took an exit onto a major southbound highway. [I-95 S] After another six and a half miles of travel, I came very close to a river and the highway intersected a toll road. [I-90] I was trying to decide which direction to go, and my stress over making the decision caused me to sneeze right where one road passed over the other.

I was very high above the ground now, [Mass Pike Interchange] and there were a bunch of hostile people with guns nearby (they even had a name to reflect that . . . gun guys, or something like that) [Gunners] and an aggressive robot lady. [Assaultron] I wanted nothing to do with any of that, so I found an elevator and took it to ground level, and then I headed east, staying under the shade of the broken highway overhead. I crossed some water, and when I reached a set of railroad tracks that pointed northwest, I went north instead. I found a gateway leading underground. [Vault 81] I would have needed a wrist device to enter, but that’s where I once met my eighth-best friend, who was reading an article titled “Hot Pink!” [Curie, Hot Rodder #3: 8th letter of answer = R] I headed east, making my way around a small body of water (given its purpose I expected it to be clean, but nope, more radioactivity) [Chestnut Hillock Reservoir] and then on the other side, I briefly navigated a much more urban area, passing below a rooftop firefight on the top of an apartment complex [Parkview Apartments] to reach a large building. This appeared to be a major settlement, patrolled by armed guards in weird outfits. [Diamond City] I was getting a closer look at some graffiti on the outer wall, appropriately extolling the protection of “the wall,” when I remembered I’m allergic to paint.

Finding myself at a corner of the building [Fenway Park] where two roads with seven-letter names intersected, [Ipswich and Van Ness] I set off in the direction that took me past a bowling alley [Lucky Strike] before the road curved to the right. I took a left when the name of the road I was following was about to change, [left on Boylston] and then continued for a little over half a mile, taking a solemn moment to pay my respects. [the Marathon finish line] Shortly after that I turned right to reach the front of the stately building that had been to my right for some time. [Boston Public Library] On the front I could see a collection of American flags. Ah, patriotism. It tickles my nose.

I looked inside the building briefly, but since I didn’t have any of the items the machine was bribing me to return, [Book Return Machine] I left and headed east. I stopped once there was a tall building on my right, which had been taken over by humans mutated by some sort of virus. [Trinity Tower, super mutants] That building was where I met my sixth-best friend, who was reading an article titled “Facepaint Fundamentals.” [Strong, U.S. Covert Operations Manual #3: 6th letter of answer = R] I continued in the opposite direction of the building and then took my first right, passing a specialty bookstore on my left. [Hubris Comics] Ahead and to the left was a park which looked pretty peaceful, despite all of the scrawled messages urging people to stay away. [Boston Common] I shrugged, approached the pond [Swan’s Pond] to get a closer look, and OH MY GOD WHAT IS THAT THING?! [It’s Swan. Run.]

I didn’t know until just then that I could will myself to sneeze out of pure fear, but I guess you learn something new every day. I stopped cowering and found I was still knee-deep in a pond, although things were a bit awkward now because the pond was covered in ice and I was surrounded by recreational skaters. [Boston Common Frog Pond] I pulled myself out, slid to shore, and walked northward to an intersection of a major road and a road named for a tree. [Beacon and Walnut] If I had gone one way on the major road, I would have encountered another road named for a tree, [Spruce] but instead I went the other direction toward a much happier-sounding street. [toward Joy St] I turned left when I reached a chapel [King’s Chapel] (as the name of the street I was following was about to change) and then took my next right. [onto Court St] After about 28% of a mile, I turned left, passing a business with a name reminiscent of about 37% of the length of my time jumps. [Century Bank, onto Chatham Row] I cut through a commercial building in front of me and beheld a historic building on the other side, [Faneuil Hall] and that’s right around when I realized I might be catching a cold.

I headed directly north toward an art gallery, [Pickman Gallery] but before I found the entrance I remembered that I don’t find art very interesting. So I turned right and approached the tall building in front of me, [Old North Church] but then I remembered I don’t find religion very interesting. (Though I remembered from another occasion that there was a lot more space in there than it appeared from the outside, and that deep within I’d met my fifth-best friend, who was reading an article titled “Modern Hearth.”) [Deacon, Picket Fences #2: 5th letter of answer = E] So I proceeded in the direction implied by the name of that building [north] and swam across the water to a financial building. Exploring the building, since money is something I do find interesting, I found myself in a vessel that wasn’t really where it should be. [USS Constitution, which is embedded above the ground in a savings and loan building] A craft like that is nothing to sneeze at, but I did anyway.

Okay, this seemed like a much more reasonable setting for this thing. I disembarked and cut southwest across a park, eventually merging with a road named after the vessel I’d just been on. [Constitution Rd] The road curved around toward the water (appropriately), [it becomes Water Rd] and I walked for about a mile along the water, passing through two parks [Paul Revere, North Point] and approaching a large domed building. [Museum of Science] But I figured that I learn enough when school is in session, so instead of turning left toward the building’s entrance, I turned right and then left. [Charles River Dam Rd, Edwin H Land Rd] After crossing the water, I came upon a large shopping center to my right. [Cambridgeside Galleria] I was trying to remember how much cash I’d brought with me, when I felt another sneeze coming on.

I was definitely in the same part of town, but the name of the shopping center was different now (it was still two words but both had changed). [Monsignor Plaza, modeled after the Galleria] I headed southeast and was thrilled that there was a bridge so I wouldn’t have to swim again . . . then I realized it was an open drawbridge, and so I had to swim again. On the other side of the water, I kept heading southeast until I reached a publication’s headquarters. [Boston Bugle Building] From there I went south toward a building emblazoned with a science-fictiony logo and a two-letter abbreviation that didn’t seem polite. [Mass Fusion building, which has an atom logo and “MF”] I passed that building on my left, took a right when the path ended, and went through a door into what I suppose was technically a gated community? [Goodneighbor] It certainly wasn’t fancy inside, but the name was friendly enough. Inside I found an underground establishment that reminded me of a warning I saw on the first leg of my journey; [The Third Rail] in there I met my seventh-best friend, who was reading an article titled “Squeaky Floorboard, Sudden Death.” [MacCready, U.S. Covert Operations Manual #6: 7th letter of answer = E] I left that place and went to explore the brick building directly above it. [Old State House] That’s where I met my third-best friend, who was reading an article titled “Essential Upgrades!” [Hancock, Picket Fences #3: 3rd letter of answer = N] Two friends in such a short period of time . . . it brings a tear to your eye. No, never mind, just allergies.

I followed a street sharing its name with a US state, [Washington St] and after a short distance I came upon a transit station. [State] My feet were pretty exhausted at this point, so I descended into the station and took a train one stop, [Downtown Crossing] and at the next station I went through an underground passage leading to a third station. [Park Street] I tried very very hard not to sneeze while I was underground, since I didn’t want to end up in some kind of subterranean future hell. I managed to control my nose until I reached that third station, but then all of a sudden . . .

Thankfully there was still a station here in the future (though it seemed extensively remodeled and possibly used for an entirely new purpose). [in the Commonwealth, Park Street Station contains a vault] I made my way to the surface and ventured southward, taking care to avoid the location I was passing on the right, given my terrifying experience from earlier. [Boston Common] I didn’t take the first road branching off to the right, and then I immediately passed a location on the right [Combat Zone] where I once met my second-best friend, who was reading an article titled “Shark Paint Schemes!” [Cait, Hot Rodder #2: 2nd letter of answer = A] I took my next left and approached a health care facility. [Mass Bay Medical Center] I’d been doing a lot of bathing in tainted water and could use a doctor . . . but of course, this place had been taken over by the gun guys. [More Gunners] Honestly, the future kind of sucks. It makes me appreciate my nine friends; they each insist on going by a one-word name, and they’ve got their issues, but at least we all get along. I wish everyone would stop fighting, but I guess war never changes.