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Evaluates the BLOCK or EXPR for each element of LIST (locally setting $_ to each element) and returns the list value composed of the results of each such evaluation. In scalar context, returns the total number of elements so generated. Evaluates BLOCK or EXPR in list context, so each element of LIST may produce zero, one, or more elements in the returned value.

@chars = map(chr, @nums);

translates a list of numbers to the corresponding characters. And

%hash = map { get_a_key_for($_) => $_ } @array;

is just a funny way to write

%hash = ();
foreach (@array) {
    $hash{get_a_key_for($_)} = $_;

Note that $_ is an alias to the list value, so it can be used to modify the elements of the LIST. While this is useful and supported, it can cause bizarre results if the elements of LIST are not variables. Using a regular foreach loop for this purpose would be clearer in most cases. See also "grep" for an array composed of those items of the original list for which the BLOCK or EXPR evaluates to true.

If $_ is lexical in the scope where the map appears (because it has been declared with my $_), then, in addition to being locally aliased to the list elements, $_ keeps being lexical inside the block; that is, it can't be seen from the outside, avoiding any potential side-effects.

{ starts both hash references and blocks, so map { ... could be either the start of map BLOCK LIST or map EXPR, LIST. Because Perl doesn't look ahead for the closing } it has to take a guess at which it's dealing with based on what it finds just after the {. Usually it gets it right, but if it doesn't it won't realize something is wrong until it gets to the } and encounters the missing (or unexpected) comma. The syntax error will be reported close to the }, but you'll need to change something near the { such as using a unary + to give Perl some help:

%hash = map {  "\L$_" => 1  } @array  # perl guesses EXPR.  wrong
%hash = map { +"\L$_" => 1  } @array  # perl guesses BLOCK. right
%hash = map { ("\L$_" => 1) } @array  # this also works
%hash = map {  lc($_) => 1  } @array  # as does this.
%hash = map +( lc($_) => 1 ), @array  # this is EXPR and works!

%hash = map  ( lc($_), 1 ),   @array  # evaluates to (1, @array)

or to force an anon hash constructor use +{:

@hashes = map +{ lc($_) => 1 }, @array # EXPR, so needs comma at end

to get a list of anonymous hashes each with only one entry apiece.