Rookie Corner – 129 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Rookie Corner – 129

A Puzzle by Webb

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The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

This week another new setter sticks their head above the parapet (and there is another in two week’s time). As usual, the setter will be delighted to receive feedback from you, the solvers. I do ask that you remember that for most setters this is a new experience, so please only offer constructive criticism.

Prolixic has updated his document entitled “A brief guide to the construction of cryptic crossword clues” which can be downloaded, in pdf format, from the Rookie Corner index page or by clicking below.

Download asa pdf

A review by Prolixic follows.

Welcome to Webb.  As a first crossword, this was a good debut.  As others have pointed out, some of the synonyms could be tighter but this will come with practice.


1 Sinister as Cameron was, Obama is too (4-6)
LEFT-HANDED – David Cameron and Barak Obama both exhibit this trait.  The former Prime Minister remains of this persuasion.  It is a slightly obscure piece of knowledge for people to know.

6 Cut of shots and locks (4)
CROP – Double definition of trimming a photograph and trimming hair

10 Dark piece on board, we hear (5)
NIGHT – A homophone of a chess piece.

11 Love’s crush of lips (6,3)
CUPID’S BOW – Double definition of love’s crush and a shape made by lips.

12 Rabbit, say, exercises woman, causing real pain? (3,5)
PET PEEVE – A generic term for a rabbit (or cat or dog) followed by the abbreviation for exercises and the name of a woman.

13 Bury within close – butt out! (5)
INTER – A two letter word meaning within followed by a word meaning close with the final letter removed (butt out).  The first definition of the word in Chambers is “end” so I think that close is a valid synonym.

15 Desire partner in animal practice, perhaps (5)
COVET – Split 2-3, this would suggest one of the partners in a place where animals are treated.

16 An archive of oral ejaculation? (9)
VOICEMAIL – A cryptic definition of where telephone calls are recorded when you cannot answer the phone.

18 Solution author’s cited without record (9)
AUSTENITE – The name of the author Jane followed by the cited from the clue without the abbreviation for a type of record.  I think that, given the obscure nature of the answer and the fact that solution has a number of different meanings, this definition is unhelpfully obscure even if correct.

20 Comedian gets working vehicle (5)
WAGON – A three letter word for comedian followed by a two letter word meaning working.

21 A quiet person‘s second work (5)
MOUSE – A two letter word for second followed by a word meaning work.  I am not sure that work and the word required are entirely analogous.

23 Rush of green after badger turns up rotting tissue (8)
GANGRENE – An anagram (rush of) of GREEN after a word meaning badger reversed (turns up).  Turns up as a reversal indicator should be used in down clues rather than across clues.  

26 Ship bolted onto exhibit after time (9)
TRANSPORT – After the abbreviation for time add a word meaning bolted and a word meaning to exhibit.  If ship is used a verb, it does not require a definition by example.  As a noun, it would.

27 It makes runny oil with trace of vitamin E (5)
OLIVE – A semi-all in one clue.  An anagram (runny) of OIL, V (trace of Vitamin) E.

28 Stare at part of agile erotica… (4)
LEER – The answer is hidden in (part of) AGILE EROTICA.

29 …through every guy taking drug, bliss finally with pleasure (2,3,5)
BY ALL MEANS – A two letter word meaning through followed by a three letter word meaning every and a three letter word for a guy including the abbreviation for Ecstasy and finally the last letter of bliss.


1 Extended account about number (4)
LONG – A three letter word for an account or record around the abbreviation for number.

2 Covers used in Eden once (3,6)
FIG LEAVES – A mild cryptic definition of the covers used by Adam and Eve when they recognised that they were naked.

3 Red Square pool’s a lively place (3,4)
HOT SPOT – A three letter word meaning red followed by the abbreviation for square and three letter word for a pool of money.  I don’t think that the word red is a direct synonym for the required letters.

4 Husband enters satisfying position (5)
NICHE – The abbreviation for husband inside a word meaning satisfying.

5 It’s said, but often censored (9)
EXPLETIVE – Another word for a swear word.

7 Bit of brush caught by seed machine (5)
ROBOT – The first letter (bit of) brush inside another word for seed.  If seed is used in the sense of the origin or beginning of something, I think that the synonym is valid.

8 Energy supplier‘s authority applied to factory (5,5)
POWER PLANT – A word meaning authority followed by another word for a factory.  There is an overlap between the definition and the second word of the clue.

9 Plug college in fight for help (6)
ADVICE – A two letter word for a plug or advert followed by the abbreviation for college inside a word meaning to fight.

14 Leader of trend slipped into stretchy lame shed at first – it can be used again (5,5)
SCRAP METAL – A word meaning shed goes before an anagram (stretchy) of LAME including hte first letter (leader of) trend.

16 State in land initially taken by savage display (9)
VAINGLORY – The abbreviation for the state of Virginia followed by the in from the clue and the first letter (initially) of land inside a word meaning savage.  Again the definition here is not as precise as it might be as the definition is more idle boasting.

17 Giant near revolting nation (9)
ARGENTINA – An anagram (revolting) of GIANT NEAR.

19 Flat and very still (4,2)
EVEN SO – A word meaning flat an a word meaning very.

20 A place where battles are planned (3,4)
WAR ROOM – A straight definition with no cryptic element.

22 University master earns treatment (5)
USAGE – The abbreviation for university followed by a word for a master or adept.

24 Place of birth (5)
NATAL – A double definition.

25 Chaos in frames stops (4)
MESS – The answer is hidden in FRAMES STOPS.

31 comments on “Rookie Corner – 129

  1. Hi Webb and Welcome!

    When I first started skimming through the clues and didn’t solve one until a long way down the list (it might have been 27a), then I thought that your puzzle might be going to be really tough! Fortunately for me, after that they seemed more forgiving. Some really good clues, especially some of the charades (I noted 10, 3, 15 & 20). Several to choose from but I think 15a is my favourite. Also liked 26a as I was tricked by the definition initially!

    There are some clues where the definition is slightly imprecise and would benefit from tightening up. I think I’m right in citing as examples: 11a and 18a, 4d and 7d. Perhaps using 18 as an example, you’ve cited one word from the BRB’s definition which, whilst correct, is possibly a bit tough on the solver.

    1a and 2d are almost General Knowledge clues with a slight cryptic twist (nothing wrong with that, though not quite so common in puzzles here) – I liked them. Hadn’t heard of the film presumably referenced by italics in 2d (but following some investigoogling it looks intriguing).

    I found 12a not in Chambers but in the ODE, which is fine.

    There are some where the surface could be made smoother. For example, though 14d’s ‘stretchy lame shed’ actually does describe the dilapidated rotting shed in my garden that’s in need of demolition, it reads somewhat clunkily here.

    I like the inventive idea of ‘rush’ as a verbal anagram indicator (if I am reading 23a correctly), which I don’t recall seeing before, but couldn’t quite get it to work in your WP ‘rush of’ form. I’m almost certainly missing something!

    And I look forward to Prolixic’s review as 13a’s WP has beaten me – thanks in advance.

    I hope these comments help. This is a great first puzzle – and I hope to see more in the near future!


  2. Congratulations to Webb on giving us an enjoyable puzzle. I thought it was quite tough, partly because some of the definitions seemed a bit vague (e.g. ‘display’ in 16d, ‘position’ in 4d and ‘machine’ in 7d). I particularly liked 15a, 21a, 27a and 19d. Perhaps I’m missing something but I can’t see anything cryptic in 20d.

  3. Hi Webb

    congratulations on your first puzzle – it is quite an achievement to fill a grid and clue everything, well done.

    There were some interesting and original clues, I liked 15a for example, and 19d and 24d are good clues

    I managed the top half not too badly then started slowing down in the bottom half.

    I agree completely with Encota regarding definitions – if they aren’t precise, they can frustrate the solve and the solver. There are a number of words where I can see where you are coming from, but in my mind the words have a meaning that is not exactly that which you are using: examples are record in 18a, seed in 7d, authority in 8d, red in 3d, etc. And there are other definitions that aren’t very helpful and not very imaginative, e.g. display (16d), solution (18d) –

    I cringed a little with the anagram indicators in 23a and 14d. Which anagram indicators work well is one of those grey areas where people will have differing opinions – perhaps good advice for rookies is to play it safe (just like in music, you need to master the trade before you improvise)

    I think Encota alluded to this, some of the cd’s (e.g. 2d, 5d, 20d) are easily read as a straight definition which is a pity and it is the reason that cd’s are hard to write – it’s quite tricky to ensure the reader clearly sees a red-herring first.

    I also did not parse 13a, and I got 1d wrong

    I hope the feedback proves useful to you and that you will be encouraged to do more. This was an excellent start

  4. Hi Webb,

    Well done on your debut in Rookie Corner. Full marks too on managing to achieve commendable brevity in the vast majority of your clues. 14d was a notable exception, unfortunately, and its surface didn’t help much.

    I liked the fact that there was a wide variety of clue types and surprisingly few anagrams and “lurkers”, with which novice setters often over-populate their early puzzles. Some of the surfaces needed a little more polish, but experience will help with that. It is clear from the finished product that a lot of thought has gone into this.

    I agree with Encota and Gazza that quite a few of the definitions were vague or strained, and, like Gazza, I was struggling to find anything cryptic at all in 20d. 18a was a new word for me and my LOI, and with 16a and 16d, these three clues probably took as long to solve as the rest of the crossword combined.

    My favourite clues were 15a, 2d and 19d. 1a was a nice try, but the use of the past tense after our former PM grated, surely he is, and always will be, 1a?

    Congratulations, Webb and I look forward to your next one.

  5. Hi Webb. Well done for taking the plunge.

    I got there OK in the end – by no means a pushover.

    I found it somewhat Rufus-like – many clues with nifty wordplays and definitions – others hardly cryptic at all. Maybe some of those latter were supposed to be “crypic definitions”, but for those to work there (usually) has to be a “wrong” interpretation which springs to the solver’s mind first.

    I prefer it if archaic words (or archaic meanings of current words) are indicated as such. I’m not sure whether Chambers indicates those I have in mind (in 1a and 13a) as archaic – Collins online does – in the end I got one of those from Mrs Bradford and the other from definition first. Opinions vary on that – some like Chambers-trawling – it’s the stock-in-trade of the barred-grid fraternity. Me – I prefer simple words and clever clues.

    There were quite a few smiles – also some possible suggestive overtones which I won’t expand on – that was all very good.

    I particularly liked 15a.

    18a took me the longest to work out but I think it’s perfectly fair.

    Many thanks for the fun – do try another one.

    1. Actually, on reflection I can see that one of those (sinister) may come from heraldry – so current – kind of – but even though Araucaria used that range of possibilities quite a bit I’m still not keen myself. But I withdraw it as a quibble.

      He often used VERT=GREEN – I thought it was unindicated French at the time – it was actually the heraldic meaning. Having un p’tit peu of facility with the language of Molière but no coat of arms I much prefer unindicated French – but the tradition is sadly otherwise.

  6. I found this particularly difficult – in fact I left it a third of the way through, solved the Times and then came back again.

    There is some good stuff in there but some of the surface readings are, I think, suffering from the ‘I’m writing a cryptic clue, I must make it really cryptic’ problem that you often encounter with new setters

    Thanks Webb for working my brain over lunch, I look forward to seeing your next puzzle in due course.

  7. Welcome Webb,
    I had the opposite experience to Encota, in that I thought after a minute it was going to be a very quick solve, as the NW corner went straight in, but after that it was tough, and I had to reveal a couple of letters in the SW.

    I thought the cryptic grammar was generally excellent, only really thinking that 23a should be a down clue. In noted the not cryptic definitions, but they are difficult to nail – Rufus is the absolute master of these and he has some that many think aren’t very cryptic.

    I found that the clues for the shorter words were of a very high standard, the longer ones got a bit convoluted which led to increased difficulty and weaker surfaces. I thought the vagueness of the definitions that people have talked about was mainly a problem where it was compounded with other things that made the solver’s life difficult. Looking in the dictionary, I think that Solution is OK for a definition for 18a, but it is a fairly obscure word, so really it has to be clued very precisely. There are many, many writers, plus things like pen, so this is not precise, and hence not easy at all. Perhaps something as simple as …writer Jane… (perhaps seemingly too obvious to the setter, but necessary to the solver) would have made this a perfectly fair clue.

    Much of the puzzle is really good, and it seems that the only thing missing is the judgement of what solvers can cope with – which will come with experience.
    My stand out clue was 19d, but I also really liked 27a and 24d. Many thanks to Webb, and also to Prolixic in advance, as there are a few things I have still to parse.

  8. Hi Webb

    Lovely first puzzle, lots of good clues. Especially liked 15a, 28a (bolted onto looked like the link until I wondered where ran came from) and 17d if you’ll let me regard revolting as part of the definition….

    1a Being picky, Cameron still IS sinister- he didn’t swap hands when he stopped being PM. But it’s a cracking story!

    In several I cannot parse the wordplay, either partially or fully, in 6a, 11a, 13a, 16a (or is that just a cryptic definition?), 14d, 16d. I assume the stretchy lame bit in 14d is an anagram – fine by me – and I can locate the first letter and a T but I can’t see how letters 2 to 5 are clued. But I’m notoriously bad at parsing other people’s clues (in fact when I look back at my own puzzles, say a couple of months later, I often can’t parse mine either).

    Don’t know the phrases in either 11a, 12a, 18a – like the removal device in 18 though.

    Not convinced by “rush of” to indicate an anagram in 23a, but very much like the badger device.

    You might need to say “ship for example” in 26a

    2d just seems a straight(ish) definition, as does 20d

    Perhaps this is too picky but if in 3d red = hot I think that’s a stretch. Something may well be red as a result of being hot, but to me that’s not quite the same. I can’t see a dictionary/thesaurus back up for what you have but there are a lot of related words so apologies if I’ve missed it

    By contrast having queried the definition in 4d that is supported in Chambers so fair enough

    The definition in 14d is also too loose in my view (especially as I can’t unravel the wordplay) and I can’t see what the definition in 16d is.

    I think as others have said the main thing to tighten up is definitions. But that’s always a subjective area many of us will “try something out” here knowing that there may be some who like it and some who don’t.

    Well done on getting a puzzle up and good luck with the next one.

  9. Made a good start with the NW corner but then hit several brick walls before finally getting a filled grid.
    No doubt Gazza is correct about the word play of 13a but, in that case, I found it rather disappointing. I also had an issue with some of the surface reads – 29a and 14d being cases in point.
    I wondered whether 18a came about as a result of the setter having got backed into a corner and as Snape has said, thought that solvers deserved a little more help to arrive at the somewhat obscure answer.

    Gripes aside, I thought there was plenty to enjoy here and some good ‘new’ ideas. Like Snape, I particularly appreciated some of the shorter ones – 15&20a plus 4&19d got the ticks from me. I certainly hope you’ll bring us another one, Webb.

  10. I was able to get on your wavelength fairly quickly so this was a very enjoyable solve. I can see you’ve already had plenty of excellent advice and as a recent rookie myself I know you’ll find this invaluable when setting future puzzles. Well done.

  11. I’m with Jane and Snape – a quick start with 1a and a few others being ‘read & write’ then all the shorter words round the outside of the grid going in with plenty of ticks in the margin – very nice.
    Which left me after breakfast with just the 4 long lights which meet in the middle. Hmm. Never mind, I popped the print-off in my pocket and took it to work, in the confident expectation that my subconscious would provide the answers. Morning break gave me 5d – hoorah! Then nothing… a blank for 18a and the two 16s until I got home to a wordsearch and all was revealed. Phew!

    So a bit of a roller-coaster ride with plenty of thrills on the way, thank you Webb. Favourite clues were 1a, 15a, 20a, 21a, 23a (excellent), 26a (quite hard), 27a (clever), 29a, 1d, 4d, 9d and 24d, but my Clue of the Day award would go to the super-smooth 19d.

    I agree with JollySwagman that your style is quite Rufus-like. The solver often needs to make intuitive leaps from clue to solution (11a, 16a, 2d etc.) but then there are some of the logical construction type like 23a, 27a etc.. so I guess your early style is mixed – and nothing wrong with that!

    For my money there’s nothing necessarily wrong with long clues per se – I’d say the 15 words of 14d is fine length-wise, but the little story you tell doesn’t come across with much flow to the solver reading it for the first time – I think it still needs some playing around with… and as has been mentioned 20d doesn’t come over as being cryptic so it seems a bit out of place.

    So all in all an excellent debut – thank you for the fun and for giving us lot an opportunity to sound like we know what we’re talking about!

  12. Thanks as always for the very fair-minded and considered review, Prolixic. It should definitely encourage Webb to compile some more puzzles.
    Strangely enough, I did know that Obama is a ‘southpaw’ but not David Cameron. Perhaps we have seen more televised instances of the US president signing documents?

  13. Most of what I jotted down while solving has already been said: an enjoyable and generally stylish puzzle with a couple of flaws that spoiled things a little (vague definitions and not-really-cryptic cryptic definitions) but which are easy to work on. The ‘seed’ in 7d did make me frown a bit – I suppose it’s technically ok as long as you don’t mind mixing metaphors too much. But I’d echo snape’s comment that the grammar was pretty much flawless throughout, which is impressive in a debut. Good sense of humour too – there was a lot that made me smile.

    My standouts were 15a, 26a, 1d, 3d and the excellent 19d. Thanks Webb, hope we’ll see you again soon! And ta as always to Prolixic.

  14. Hello there – I was trying to figure out the right time to respond to all of your very helpful comments and thought I’d wait until after Prolixic’s review to write my thank you comments.

    I’m glad to hear that most of it works and that the areas that I think everyone agreed needed improving – the woolly and obscure definitions and words, the clunky long clues, the unsuccessful CDs – can be worked on for next time.

    I thought I’d discuss individual clues as they appear in across/down order – 1a was (should that be ‘is’?) a case of trying to write a topical clue. Now that Cameron’s no longer PM, I was trying to make it work on that level, but Silvanus and Starhorse are quite right – unless he suddenly demonstrates ambidexterity in a photo, he’ll always be 1a. 23a was a silly error in hindsight – ‘turns back’ would have worked better as a direction.

    2d is one of those rare occasions where you learn something after the fact – the ‘Eden’ italicization was not, as Encota suggested, referring to a film (I’ve just searched for it as I’m writing this – lots of interesting sounding films called Eden out there!) but something a bit more low-culture, perhaps – the (British) C4 TV ‘reality’ series that aired over this (2016) summer. I was going for a modern pop culture reference, but I ended up getting a lot more out of it thanks to Encota!

    14d – a stretch too far? One of the clunky ones, the ‘lame’ should probably have had an accent on the e (a d’oh moment) – it was an attempt at misdirection using material, but I loved reading about Encota’s shed, and a great mental image springs to mind every time I read that comment.

    20d stinks. It stinks to high heaven. It stinks so badly of being a CD too far, and the worst thing about it is that as soon as Dutch mentioned it, I could think of at least two different ways to write a clue for it (one involving something like a no-good husband in conflict, the other involving something like ‘dock bitter’ being drawn up [23a’s ‘turns up’ should have gone there!]) You can be sure I shall try to quietly forget that that clue ever saw the light of day – really sorry about that one.

    Coming back to specific issues – 18a is quite obscure and the wordplay could be more helpful (thanks to Snape and Jane for this) – but I was wondering what everyone here thinks about working more scientific and mathematical terms into cryptics. Most are not helpful to setters – the definition for 18a confirms that – so as a result, I thought I’d try and work one into this crossword to test the water on whether they work well or not. Judging by the mixed response, I think I’ll stay away from them, for now at least.

    CDs – Based on your responses, I think it’s fair to say that everyone (myself included) enjoys Rufus’s CDs (I really got into solving cryptics partly through them), and those CDs which didn’t really work here (2d, 5d, especially 20d) were probably a case of me trying too hard to get near his great level. Anagram indicators, especially 23a (thanks to Miffypops and Dutch again for this one) – true, there are lots of good indicators out there, but I hope it’s OK to test new ones here and get feedback on them now rather than have them fail to work in a national paper crossword (probably dreaming too high here…)

    In summing up, I’m glad that the charades work, really glad that the concise clues like 19d went well (long-winded clues with little or no reward are not my cup of tea either), especially pleased that the suggestive humour comes through (Cyclops is another cryptic legend to me), and very happy to have feedback on setting at a reasonable difficulty (Snape and crypticsue – truth be told, I have a habit of setting any puzzle [not cryptics] that I compile for university student newspapers at too hard a level because I get very little feedback on them).

    I have often been a bit of a 21a about submitting cryptics for publication – I’m often afraid of compiling something completely rotten – but am now glad that I did. A big thank you to all the commenters here and to Prolixic for the review. Onwards to the next one!

    1. Welcome to the blog Webb

      You are joining the best community on the web for aspiring setters. Please feel free to comment on other Rookie puzzles and we look forward to your own next puzzle,

    2. Nice of you to pop in, Webb, and thank you for taking the time to go through the queries and give responses. We’ve got some great people on here who have the knowledge and experience to help you – along with a fair smattering of those of us who are probably representative of your likely target audience.
      I’m glad you feel motivated to put together another puzzle for Rookie Corner – we’ll look forward to it.

      1. Meant to add that I rather liked the ‘different’ anagram indicators!
        As for the 25a issue – maybe putting ‘after badger turns over’ would have been acceptable?

    3. Hi Webb,

      Really interesting insight, thank you.

      Re. ‘Austenite’, I’m generally fine with a scientific item or two, especially if the wordplay leads you clearly to it even if the def is unknown to you. I do know, however, how my heart sinks when I see the definition ‘plant’ or near equivalent and (a) wonder which of the hundreds of possibilities it’ll turn out to be and (b) whether I’ve even heard of it. I guess ‘salt’ and ‘rock’ also aren’t far from those, especially those of the form “insert19thCenturyGeologistHere-ite”. As I am sure you know Chambers is full of them (several hundred at least)! Having said all that I am probably biased, as I do set technical puzzles for another magazine…

      I look forward to your next puzzle.


    4. Yeah I don’t think there’s anything wrong with science and maths terms in a crossword – but like any general knowledge, the more obscure the answer is, the more transparent the definition and wordplay need to be. The problem with the austenite clue wasn’t that it was scientific – or even that it was obscure – but that the clue itself should have been easier to match the obscurity.

  15. Hi Webb,

    With regard to your question about scientific language, two ideas occur:

    1. Scientific terms like ‘current’ = I for example are an established part of Crosswordland’s own language. Use them if they’re in Chambers perhaps, but be cautious because some will only be familiar to solvers of barred puzzles and you risk upsettting blocked puzzle solvers. The periodic table is very useful of course – I still remember Anax’s lovely clue for IRON which used ‘Santa Fe’, for example – but I’d usually avoid using the more obscure elements – (a guideline I admit to having broken (on this site!) with Americium).

    2. For terms like Austenite – and anything abstruse really – it’s a matter of balance. The more recondite the answer, the simpler the clue. For example Dac in the i today had the Latin expression UT SUPRA, but he gave it to us as a hidden thusly: ‘Cuts up radish sandwiches as indicate above’.
    You probably already know this but as a rule, hiddens are thought to be the easiest type of wordplay, (including acrostics, reverse hiddens and alternates) so I’d say using these would be fine for even the most obscure scientific terms, if you can, plus make the definition really tight. Anagrams can be easy (when solving I normally go hunting for them first) but are often problematic with unknown scientific terms where the unchecked letters would make equal sense in more than one arrangement.

    Hope that’s of some help.

  16. Hello again,

    Thanks to all the commenters so far for their feedback on austenite and similar terms – all of it will definitely be very helpful for next time.

    1. The only trouble I had with AUSTENITE was entirely of my own making.

      With all the crossing letters in ( A_S_E_I_E ) I was convinced (on account of the initial A) that “solution” had to have something to do with ANSWER. As soon as I abandoned that approach and tried “solution” as the definition CITED without CD was easy leaving: writer A_S_E_ to be found. Surely not a very big ask.

      I didn’t know what austenite was, but it sounded fairly convincing.

      In my view a medium difficulty puzzle should ideally not contain any obscurities at all. How to judge what is or isn’t an obscurity is highly subjective – why we should be expected to know all sorts of words from dead languages and characters from their associated mythologies but no elementary scientific terminology is beyond me.

      Filling out a grid with no obscurities at all can be quite a tricky task – often harder than writing the clues – especially if you don’t want to kick out words which you can see offer rich cluing possibilities.

      I agree with others above that the best way to compensate is to make the wordplay side of the clue fairly easy – but I can’t really fault you on that account in regard to that particular clue.

      The misdirection (solution – A) may have been unintentional, but I fell for it – that was my undoing – even so I won in the end – hence no complaint from me.

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