June 1995 Double Dealings

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Mac: I have always been leery of videotaped instruction as a way to learn magic tricks. In general, I don't think that it provides the ease of use or the freedom of interpretation that a text-based format does. The only area in which I think that video teaching surpasses book learnin' is in seeing a routine in action before a live audience. This might be looked at as a disadvantage as well. For people looking for a quick fix, just a trick or two to show their friends, video provides everything laid out for them - method, presentation, patter, etc. I don't think this is necessarily a good thing. The temptation is too great for some people to stop thinking. It is conceivable that even an unadorned secret move (the top change for example) is better learned from a book. By that I mean that maybe even sleights are better if adapted to your hands and mannerisms.

Also, there are limitations which video cannot overcome. I watched a video teaching tape once that contained a trick with a stacked deck. The stack was shown on the tape! The guy just called out one card after another until he had named all 52 cards and their position in the stack. There was no way that you could set this up as you watched the tape. You had to write the information down as he said it, and then rig up the deck.

For me, the danger in voicing my belief that videos are a bad way to learn magic is that it might lead you to believe that I'm just a technophobe, or that I'm like the stereotypical grandfather... "I learned magic from books, so that's how you'll learn magic. You don't need any of this newfangled gadgetry to be a magician." That's not true. I think videotape can play a great part in helping you develop your act. I just think that, with only a couple of exceptions, video is a bad way to teach magic tricks.

And what are those exceptions? Maybe it's a good idea in the case of instructional tapes for kids (or true beginners) as a vehicle to get them interested and to show them what good magic really looks like. The other instance when I think video is extremely valuable is as a chance to see someone you might otherwise have missed. The Dai Vernon tapes (those which actually feature Vernon) and the recently released Ross Bertram videos fall into this category.

Mike: I agree with you, Mac. Like it or not, magic is an intellectual activity, and success requires a creative imagination and the ability to visualize. By its very nature, reading challenges the intellect, forcing the brain into action. Watching a video is a passive activity; rarely is the watcher's imagination called into play.

I don't totally dismiss the use of video in the learning process, but I do think that videos should be a supplement to the written word, and not a substitute for it. There are some things that video does better than print. One example is timing. It is very difficult to convey in words the pacing and flow of a routine. Another use is to evaluate the effectiveness and practically of a sleight. There are times when I have read and studied a sleight and thought, "I don't understand how this could be deceptive." A demonstration by the originator (or some other competent performer) can answer that question. If you are isolated and do not get a chance to attend conventions, then video is often your only recourse.

I would offer one other thought to consider. If the only way you can learn a trick is to have someone teach it to you on a video, then you will always be an imitator. The literature contains thousands of tricks that will never be on a video. They wait for someone to use a creative imagination to turn them into performance pieces. So turn off the TV and open a book. The first person who's amazed at what happens might just be you.

David Roth's Expert Coin Magic Made Easy Volumes 1-3 Easy to Master Money Miracles Volumes 1-3

Mike: The budding coin man who seeks out video instruction is about to be blown away by offerings from two of the major magic companies. Six videos, more than seven and a half hours of information, and a ton of top-notch material make these an important contribution to the library of teaching videos. To help you make an informed buying decision, I'll give you an overview of each of the tapes, and then I'll give you my opinion of each series and how the two series relate to each other.

The Expert Coin Magic Made Easy series comes from A-1 MultiMedia, and is designed to take the student from basic to advanced coin magic. David Roth is the instructor, and he is certainly eminently qualified to lead such a course. Volume I is titled "Basic Coin Magic." Roth discusses the three basic concealment positions (Classic, Finger, and Thumb palms), and vanishes associated with each. Methods for transferring a coin from one palm position to another are taught. The discussion of vanishes leads to the subject of coin switches, and several are taught, including the Bobo Switch and the Roth Shuttle Pass. The Vernon Load and the L'Masque Load are demonstrated, as are the Ramsay Subtlety and the Kaps Subtlety. Tricks taught include "Winged Silver," a "Copper & Silver" routine, and the famous Roth "Chinese Coin Assembly."

Volume 2 ("Basic to Intermediate Coin Magic") includes the Roth Retention Pass, the Curl Palm, the Downs Palm, Harvey Rosenthal's Click Pass, and the Bertram/Marlo/ Skinner Spider Vanish. Some of the routines are: "Coins through the Table," the Buckley "Coins to Cup," "Spellbound," and the Roth "Hanging Coins" routine.

Volume 3 is titled "Intermediate to Advanced Coin Magic," and contains performances and explanations of the Palm to Palm Switch, the Cardini Steal, John Cornelius' "Metamorphosis Change," "Milliken's Transposition," Slydini's "Han Ping Chien" routine, an "Expansion of Texture" routine, an advanced "Copper & Silver" routine, and two classic Roth routines - "The One Coin Routine" and "The Purse & Glass."

The production value of all these tapes is outstanding. A variety of camera angles are used, and this combined with the use of slow motion replay makes all the sleights crystal clear. Mr. Roth's years of experience in discussing this material is obvious in the clarity and concision of his explanations. Very often a sleight or a routine is followed by a ten-second tip that gives further helpful learning hints.

My negative comments are few. The "Spellbound" routine taught in Volume 2 probably should have been delayed until Volume 3. It is one of the most difficult routines in the series. The One-Handed Spellbound Change should also have been delayed, and for some reason this move is not performed for the lay spectator, it is only explained. This could leave the viewer with the impression that no one could get away with the move in real life. Also, there is an error on the cover of Volume 3. Mention is made of an ("Advanced Chink-a-Chink" routine. This routine is only on the special Collector's Edition.

Easy to Master Money Miracles comes from L & L Publishing, and is a follow up to their very successful Easy to Master Card Miracles series. Once again, Michael Ammar serves as the host/performer/instructor and, with the help of consultants David Roth, Gary Plants, and Brad Henderson, he has assembled an outstanding collection of money magic. (Note that these are not just coin tricks. Also included are tricks with paper money and a couple of routines in which the money plays a peripheral role.) As far as I can tell, there is no pedagogical order to the tapes, so they can be enjoyed in whatever order you choose to purchase them. Each tape contains at least nine items, so for the sake of space I will touch on the highlights.

Volume I includes Ammar's "41 Cent Miracle," Jack Chanin's "Continuous Production," the Stark and Malbrough "Hornswoggled" routine, two different "Matrix" routines, and the Roth "Hanging Coins."

Volume 2 features the world famous Roth and Ammar "Shadow Coins" routine, a stand-up "Coins Through the Table" routine with a kicker by Mike Gallo, Daryl's "Cross of India," the Jacques-Keeny "$2 Bill Tear," the "Expansion of Texture," and the Stephan Schutzer "Self-Folding Bill."

Volume 3 includes Ammar's "Coins Thru Silk," Fechter's "Flying Eagles," Tom Ogden's amazing penetration effect "$5 and $1," the Page-Kaps "E-Z Money" routine, and "Bill to Nut," which is a clever routine based on an idea of U. F. Grant.

The production values of these tapes are also excellent. Michael's slow, clear explanations combined with superb camera work are the next best thing to personal instruction. At the end of each technical explanation there is a segment called "The Real Secret to . . ." It is here that Michael offers suggestions on psychology, presentation, audience management, and discusses ways to maximize the magical impact. Also included are "Super Practice" sessions, in which the effects are performed in slow motion. Each tape comes with a small booklet that gives a time code index to the items on the tape and also provides some further technical information.

"So which series should I buy?" I hear you cry. I'll get to that in a minute. Before I do, I want to offer two caveats. Both series use the word "Easy" in their titles. This is misleading. Unlike playing cards, there is no such thing as a "self-working" ungaffed coin trick. Even the most basic trick requires the use of a concealment, and this means that some degree of dexterity will be involved. So do not think that you will be able to perform any of these routines without the investment of conscientious, intelligent practice time. Instead of the word "Easy," the publishers should have said: "Taught with clarity and precision so that your practice time will be as effective as possible." However, if they had done this, they wouldn't sell any tapes. "Easy" sells. Just be aware that the purpose of these tapes is not instant gratification. If you have a desire to learn, however, these tapes will put you on the right track.

Secondly, I want to touch on the performances of Mr. Ammar and Mr. Roth. With such a large amount of material to present and discuss, it is obvious that routines will be included which are not a part of either gentlemen's working repertoire. With these routines you will find that the presentations are pretty basic, generally just a verbal description of what you can see. With their signature routines, the performances are stronger. One of the great problems with presenting coin magic is how to make the routines meaningful. Far too often they simply become (in Eugene Burger's words) "the adventures of the props and the hands." I would suggest that you pay attention to the presentation for the "41 Cent Miracle" as an example of adding an emotional hook to what would otherwise be a simple vanish and reappearance of three coins. In both series, the challenge of adding meaningfulness has (for the most part) been left up to you.

So here's the bottom line. I feel that the two series have no conflicting intents. The Roth tapes focus on the techniques of coin magic, presented in a logical progression, with routines designed to incorporate whatever sleight is being discussed. If you have no knowledge of coin magic, then this is the series you should go to first. The Ammar tapes focus on repertoire. If you are already comfortable with most of the basic coin sleights, you will probably want to go to this series first. My guess is, though, that if video is your learning medium of choice, then you will want them all. And you won't be disappointed.

Mac: I thought that there was real value here, but man, in-between every segment on the Roth tapes there is an amazingly annoying clinking noise. I think it is a sound effect of a bunch of coins dropping into a glass. Not only is it grating, but it's also a time waster. I also thought the slow motion stuff was a waste. What VCR doesn't have slo-mo? My other gripe about the Roth series is much more serious. Why does he start each tape by taking off his jacket?

Mike: I don't know. Some form of Cloutier envy?

Mac: Also annoying was the music in the Roth tape. It sounded a bit like porno background music to me. Not that I'd know, of course. But all those silly comments aside, I thought that these were well produced and really would teach you how to be a junior David Roth. I also agree with you that there is really no real way to compare the Ammar and Roth tapes. They are different animals. If I were purchasing a set for my own use, I'd buy the Ammar tapes. They seem to have a wider selection of plots and effects. Michael has obviously watched a lot of infomercials and corporate videos. Because these have that same feel, I found them a bit creepy to watch. But the tricks are great, and very well taught. And I did like that the performances took place in a sort of real life situation.

Mike: My thought was that beginners might find the Roth videos more useful, while those with some coin "chops" would like the variety on the Ammar tapes.

Mac: I agree completely. Although, while I don't actually perform much coin magic, I would consider myself pretty knowledgeable about it, and I still found some stuff on the Roth tapes that I thought was informative and not referred to by others teaching coin magic. There's a wealth of fine stuff in both sets.

Mike: Right. If you're unfamiliar with the techniques and the repertoire of coin and money magic these tapes are great introductions. With the background you acquire here, it will be easier to tackle the classic coin texts by Roth, Downs, Bobo and Slydini.

The Magic of the Hands Trilogy By Edward Victor

The Magic of Edward Victor's Hands By Rae Hammond

Mac: The Magic of the Hands Trilogy collects the three Edward Victor books, The Magic of the Hands, More Magic of the Hands, and Further Magic of the Hands for the first time into one hardbound volume. The first of these was originally published in 1937, and the last in 1946. Together they total about 250 pages of material on cards, coins, billiard balls, matchboxes, handkerchiefs, thimbles, ropes and lots of other stuff. These books are classics. In my mind there are two kinds of "classics." There's the classic that you keep in your garage and look at from time to time because it brings you pleasure simply to possess such an item. And there's the classic that you like to gas up, take the top down, and cruise down the highway into show off. The kind that still runs just as good today as the day it was built.

This reprint is an excellent combination of those two classic types. There are, of course, some things in them that are outdated or have been genuinely improved on since the original publication. But also there are some cool items here. I have always been kind of a closet Edward Victor fan, having skimmed through his books at my friend's houses, but never actually owning a copy of any of them myself. I knew he had contributed a great deal to magic, but I was surprised by the extent of his influence. Many card moves, billiard ball moves, coin sleights, thimble routines, and rope handlings have their basis in the writing of Edward Victor.

The books are in the same format as the originals with the same photos, clear illustrations, and page numbers. The highlights for me are (in order of appearance) "My Rope Routine" (the original and still great), "Visiting" (a four-objects-assemble-under-

two-covers type trick), "The Cigarette Paper Effect" (a clean torn-and-restored and burnt-and-reproduced cigarette paper), "The Magnetized Cards" (a purely sleight-of-hand method for causing 24 widely spread cards to cling to your hand), a vanishing glove effect (both gloves disappear visibly - one of them while you're wearing it), "A Salt and Knife Problem" (a paddle type trick), "An Invisible Palm" (this great production of a fan of cards is much in vogue today), and "The Haunted Pack" (with a borrowed deck).

Those are all great tricks. But, for me, the really superior stuff is in the new volume, The Magic of Edward Victor's Hands, by Mr. Victor's friend Rae Hammond. It has biographical material interspersed with some really remarkable magic tricks. If I saw this on a shelf in a magic store, I'd almost buy it just because of the cover photograph of Edward Victor. It is really cool. There are some more great photos inside.

But the best parts of the book are some of the tricks. To me, the finest thing by far is "The Edward Victor Diminishing Pack." This is a specially prepared pack that enables you to cause a fan of cards to diminish first to half size, then to quarter size, and then immediately back to full-sized cards. All this without adding or taking away even a single card.

My other personal favorite is Edward's handling of the "Nudist Deck." A deck of cards is fanned and shown to be completely blank. A few cards are printed, and then the remainder of the pack is printed all at once. The deck is then handed out for shuffling (and examination).

Also among the highlights are a paddle trick (which Frances Marshall claims fooled Dai Vernon), and the famous "Edward Victor Eleven Card Trick," which is the basis for modern classics by Gene Gordon ("Dizzy Dollar"), Fred Kaps ("Eleven Bill Trick"), Derek Dingle ("Derek Dingle's Fabulous Jumping Card Trick"), and David Williamson ("The Famous Three Card Trick").

The one slight disappointment I had was that the pre-publication advertisement says, "There's even a chapter on his shadowgraphy." While there is a chapter on shadowgraphy - and it is fascinating - you won't learn how to do any hand shadows from it.

These books are remarkable. If you can just buy one, buy the Rae Hammond volume, but I'd recommend getting them both.

Mike: I liked both books a lot. They're the kind I know I will come back to often. I have found that when I'm trying to come up with something new for my work, the best place to go is one of the older texts. There are often great plots, and with a little work you can make the trick play for a contemporary audience.

Mac: But I think it's wrong to imply that everything in these books will need to be reworked and updated to be usable today.

Mike: Absolutely. In fact, there are a couple of routines that I could incorporate immediately. The four-card assembly done with borrowed business cards is terrific. As is the "Victor Bat" routine and the "Diminishing Cards." It's no wonder that Edward Victor impressed people like Dai Vernon. This guy was one clever Mofo. There is a wealth of material in these books, as well as providing insight into the life of a performer who is little remembered today. I highly recommend these books.

Mac: Actually, speaking of the life of a performer, did the bio book make you a bit sad? I found myself feeling sorry for Mr. Victor. He so wanted to be a magician, and it seems as if most of his work was actually as a shadowgrapher.

Mike: Yeah, I felt that way, too. Once again, it's the age-old story of having to make a living in a commercial environment that is only looking for a certain kind of entertainment. But looking at the photos of Victor doing shadowgraphy, he was awesome at it, and definitely had nothing to be ashamed of. He had amazing hands.

Mac: And I think he'd be proud of these books, and pleased that he's being reintroduced to the magic world in 1995.

Mike: And in books that were obviously prepared with great care and affection for the subject.. .I can't type anymore, Mac.. .I'm getting too misty eyed.

Mac: Let's change the subject.

Bound to Please: The Collected Early Works of Simon Aronson By Simon Aronson.

Mike: When I first began attending conventions, I had two magical bombs I would unload at about 3:00 a.m., just as a round of sessioning would start to break up. One of these was of my creation; the other was Simon Aronson's. Simon's trick always elicited that stunned silence which indicates that magicians have been profoundly fooled. When pressed for the method, I would never tip, however, if hounded enough, I would explain that the trick was Simon's and was in a book that could be obtained from him. When Simon and I finally met some years later, he told me that my demonstrations were responsible for selling quite a few books. I am delighted to have the opportunity to (hopefully) do that again for a much wider audience, and without the need to have to stay up so late.

Bound to Please contains reprints of three of Simon's early publications - The Card Ideas of Simon Aronson, A Stack to Remember, and Shuffle-Bored, plus items which had appeared in Kabbala and The Last Hierophant. As Simon states in the Foreword to the book, he has not "sought to rewrite, revise, or update these works," but there are some editorial notes which contain very useful bits of information. Since the original books were less than energetically marketed, much of the material in this reprint is little known and is deserving of greater recognition.

I would imagine that at one time or another I have performed every effect in The Card Ideas book. The first section of the book contains versions of the "Twisting 1-2-3-4" plot, a handling of "The Cards Through Newspaper," some remarkable card locations, and an absolutely diabolical version of "The Spectator Cuts the Aces." Section two is entitled "Ideas for Two Deck Effects" and contains the "bomb" which I referred to earlier. (I see no reason to give you any more help than that.) Section three contains ideas and routines for the memorized deck, including a variation of Louis Histed's "Miracle Divination," and some card locations that defy reconstruction.

A Stack to Remember details the Aronson stack, which is one of the most ingenious card arrangements around. The majority of memorized deck effects can be done with any stack, but Simon's stack has much to recommend it. Built into the stack are: three sequential poker deals, the Michael Zens "Any Poker Hand Called For" stack, a perfect 7 No Trump bridge deal, a Spelling effect, and some other stuff that even Simon didn't know was there. The mnemonic system, which is used to learn the stack, is completely detailed with all the necessary word associations spelled out. This greatly simplifies the learning of the stack. (Before leaving this subject, I should mention that quite a bit of material on the memorized deck will be published in the near future. Take this opportunity to learn a stack and you'll be ready when the flood hits.)

Shuffle-Bored concerns itself with one effect, but it's a stumper: Two spectators shuffle a deck of cards into a face-up/face-down condition. Without touching the deck and without any ambiguities, questions, outs or moves, the magician reveals how many face-up cards are in the deck and the red/black distribution of those cards. Simon's discussion of this effect is extremely thorough, with full explanations of the method and alternate handlings.

The material reprinted from Kabbala and the Hierophant includes three memorized deck routines and a card-stabbing effect using a gaff which was first mentioned in the Card Ideas book. These routines are uniformly excellent.

So what else can I tell you? This is terrific material, described with intelligence and clarity, created by one of magic's most ingenious thinkers. If you already have the original manuscripts, you will probably appreciate the convenience of the hardbound reprint. If you are unfamiliar with this material, then get ready for a treat.

Mac: The first thing I noticed when I received this book was the quote on the back dust jacket from Mike Close hyping this book. I must admit that I was ready to pounce on you after your review of this book. I looked extra hard for flaws in the book hoping that I could catch you being soft in your review. I'm glad I read so carefully. You're right, this is a cool book. All of the tricks are foolers, and most of them are suitable for devastating both laymen and magicians. I do feel it should be mentioned that a few of the tricks seem to be designed more for other magicians than the general public, and a couple of the items are what you might call "intellectual novelties." By that I mean tricks in which something unexplained does occur, but the response is more "how curious" instead of: "Damn! How the heck did that happen?"

Mike: You're correct in your assessment. I would classify some of the material as magician foolers, others are more appropriate in a casual setting with friends, and there are some that can be incorporated into your normal professional repertoire. By the way, the quote from me on the back of the book came from Workers #2, in which I explained a move which I developed to use with one of Simon's tricks. I endorsed the book there.

Mac: Nice Workers plug.

Mike: Thanks. This reviewing gig doesn't pay much, so you've got to do what you can. I say that if you're a card guy, and you're looking for some fine material to play with (and perhaps actually perform), this is a great book to check out.

Mac: Yes, I didn't mean to imply that I didn't care for the book. I think it's really great.

Illusionworks 1 - Music for Modern Magical Performances By Steve Wiliford and Rand Woodbury

Mike: As I sat thinking about how to review this product, I was reminded of an endorsement Roger Klause once gave, "For people who like this kind of trick, this is the kind of trick those people will like." Illusionworks has released a compact disc of music specifically composed with the needs of "the illusionist, the manipulator, the dancer, and the choreographer in mind." Illusionworks retains the copyright for the music, but the purchaser is free to use the music in public performances without any ASCAP or BMI infringements (something many magicians do not even consider when they appropriate recorded music for their acts). To describe music in words is difficult, and to give you any sense of what this disc is about I will need to use musical terms. If you don't understand the lingo, be sure to talk to someone who does before you invest in any music.

Ten pieces are provided, with each piece presented in a longer and a shorter version. The short versions range from 2:03 to 2:40, and the longer versions from 2:41 to 3:30. The purpose of this is to provide more music without the user needing to loop or splice. All the music is upbeat. Tempos range from a quarter note pulse of 108 (this is a metronome marking) to a very brisk 180. All the compositions are in a minor key or imply a minor tonality. The compositional format is to establish some type of rhythmic ostinato figure (either in eighth notes or sixteenths) that generally continues throughout the piece. Over this is layered a strong drum/percussion groove and melodic tiffs which are often of a funky/bluesish nature (several of these using a synth-brass sound). There is a technogroove piece, one which features a latin montuno piano riff, an interesting one with low marimba/fluty combination, and one with low pan pipes with a koto/bell type of lead line.

The production on these pieces is excellent. The sound is clean, the drums "snap," the grooves are solid, and the energy is high. (This is beginning to sound like American Bandstand.) Because of the use of the ostinato figures, I think it would be possible to edit out a shorter version of each piece, if necessary. Also, each piece ends cold (that is, it does not fade out), which should help punch the climax of any routine they accompany.

So, if you are looking for music to use with a stage routine you are putting together, should you buy this disc? I don't know. You may buy it and discover that none of the pieces suit you. Or, you may find that several of the pieces are usable. As currently advertised, you are buying a pig in a poke. The $29 price rag is about what you would pay for two discs in a record store. And possibly you might find nothing of use on them, and there would still be the question of BMI/ASCAP licensing.

I have a possible solution, but before I discuss it I want to mention two other sources for music for your act. In every city of average size there are recording studios. Most of these studios will have libraries of prerecorded music specifically designed to be used as background music. These are on disc, the production values are very high, and the variety is enormous. In addition, most of these pieces are offered in a variety of timings (2:00, 1:00, 0:30, 0:10). If your routine is "set" and is unlikely to change in the near future, you could bring a video tape of the routine to the studio and audition a wide variety of music, and in all probability find a piece which works exactly. The downside is that each piece of music will probably cost you around $100 (a ball park figure). The price will include the BMI/ASCAP licensing to allow you to use the music in your show. The second alternative is if your act is "set" and your intentions are to be as professional as possible. In that case, it may be worth your while to seek out someone to score original music for your show. While this is more expensive, the fact that amazing things can be done with computers and synthesizers does not put this option outside the realm of possibility. And no store-bought music can ever capture the "hit points" and nuances of an act the way original music can.

I do have a suggestion for the Illusionworks company. According to the liner notes of the disc, it is their intention to release a second disc with "slower, dramatic music and compositions designed for the presentation of particular illusions and dance routines." Perhaps when this becomes available they could offer a cassette with 25 or 30 second snippets of each of the pieces of the two discs. This could be offered at a minimal cost, and if the purchaser found that the music was useful he could return the cassette and order the appropriate disc. If a program like this could be worked out, I would have no problem in recommending this music without reservation.

Mac: You know a lot more than I do about music. Tell me about this ASCAP and BMI licensing stuff. You mean I'm really going to go to jail if I use a song off my George Clinton album in my act?

Mike: Well, here's the deal. If you use any copyrighted material in your act and have not obtained permission (buy obtaining a license to do so), then you may be breaking the law. What happens is that many venues (bars, nightclubs, casino lounges, hotel lounges, etc.) pay a fee to ASCAP and BMI, which allows performers to use copyrighted material in their venues. That is why I never had to concern myself with this when I played with my trio, or did solo piano gigs in hotels. The hotel paid the fee. To make sure that you are covered, regardless of where you perform, it would be safest to get an annual license for whatever music you use. (There is a terrific article written by James Romeo on this in the July 1992 issue of MAGIC.)

Mac: You know there are some advantages to buying music without hearing it first. When I was a kid, I bought a record album called Music For Magicians, which turned out to be overly dramatic organ music. I had planned to use it for a serious manipulative act. It was so hokey that it turned my whole act into a spoof, thus changing the course of my career forever.

Mike: Thank God for hokey organ music. If that album had been good, you might have just been offered $100 million by some Las Vegas casino.

One last secret note: H & R Books has just purchased the entire Micky Hades Seattle book inventory. This is probably about 10,000 volumes. Keep your eyes peeled for some great deals from them.

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