The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time

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The signs of the times are missing apostrophes.
The world needed a hero, but how would an editor with no off-switch answer the call? For Jeff Deck, the writing was literally on the wall: ?NO TRESSPASSING.? In that moment, his greater purpose became clear.  Dark hordes of typos had descended upon civilization? and only he could wield the marker to defeat them.
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The signs of the times are missing apostrophes.
The world needed a hero, but how would an editor with no off-switch answer the call? For Jeff Deck, the writing was literally on the wall: “NO TRESSPASSING.” In that moment, his greater purpose became clear.  Dark hordes of typos had descended upon civilization… and only he could wield the marker to defeat them.
Recruiting his friend Benjamin and other valiant companions, he created the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL). Armed with markers, chalk, and correction fluid, they circumnavigated America, righting the glaring errors displayed in grocery stores, museums, malls, restaurants, mini-golf courses, beaches, and even a national park. Jeff and Benjamin championed the cause of clear communication, blogging about their adventures transforming horor into horror, it’s into its, and coconunut into coconut.
But at the Grand Canyon, they took one correction too far: fixing the bad grammar in a fake Native American watchtower.  The government charged them with defacing federal property  and summoned them to court—with a typo-ridden complaint that claimed that they had violated “criminal statues.” Now the press turned these paragons of punctuation into “grammar vigilantes,” airing errors about their errant errand..
The radiant dream of TEAL would not fade, though.   Beneath all those misspelled words and mislaid apostrophes, Jeff and Benjamin unearthed deeper dilemmas about education, race, history, and how we communicate. Ultimately their typo-hunting journey tells a larger story not just of proper punctuation but of the power of language and literacy—and the importance of always taking a second look.

From the Hardcover edition.

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  • The Great Typo Hunt
    The Great Typo Hunt  

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Deck is a man on a mission. From greasy spoon menus to national park signs, he and his cohorts (including co-author Herson) road trip around the nation looking for, and attempting to correct, spelling mistakes, misplaced apostrophes, and other small but apparently significant abuses to the English language. While Deck and friends approach their trip with a good sense of humor, early chapters feel prosaic. Before departing Deck contemplates the "madness" of the endeavor. Is correct commas from a car really all that wild? And surely we could have done without the litany of bear-related pet names Deck's girlfriend often employs when addressing him. Given that most readers drawn to this book will already share the authors' penchant for consistent and "proper" language, more substantial exploration of their evolving motivation would have been stimulating. Deck and Herson speed past questions of race, class, dialect, and education that their quest inherently raises. While the moments of human interaction run from tender to hostile, the end result doesn't add up to more than the sum of its anecdotes. Though the many snapshots included (often in the "before and after" vein, showing the fruits of their labor) add welcome humor.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Magazine editor Deck and bookseller Herson conduct a three-month exercise in field orthography. As an editor, Deck is a foe of typos, but he is no simple grammar cop, smacking his superior lips over misspellings and errors in punctuation. They are careless, for sure, but typos signal a greater problem, he writes-miscommunication. To combat the problem, he formed the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL) and took his editorial zeal on the road around the United States, mostly in the company of his friend Herson and often sporting a mock-Shakespearean tone: "O Weird Sisters, O Fates, you had stricken me with a typo in the very store where I'd purchased my white-out!" During their journey, they found typos and tried to correct them, and they employed stealth on occasion, though asking permission was more in keeping with the mission-to call attention to the mistakes without slapping wrists. This would be pretty thin gruel for a 300-page narrative, but Deck takes what might have been a stunt and uses it to explore some of the thornier areas of communication, class and capitalism. When retail clerks hesitated to comply with his request to fix a typo, he eventually came to appreciate their predicament: "Making a decision could only offer repercussions for the wrong choice, and no reward for the right one." Tiptoeing through the politically correct minefield of language as it reflects race and class, the authors acknowledge that fear of using the wrong language has trumped what we say with how we say it. When their project garnered news coverage that got it wrong, Deck and Herson wondered about the veracity of all news. Though they provide no earthshaking realizations, the authors succeeded in instigating "furious conversations among all the various factions and individuals who still cared about spelling and grammar, and . . . reveal[ing] telling patterns about the mistakes people were making."A testament to the fact that typos matter, especially when you look behind them. First printing of 40,000. Agent: Jeff Kleinman/Folio Literary Management
From the Publisher
Indie Next List, "Great Reads from Booksellers You Trust," August 2010

Boston Globe Bestseller

"[THE GREAT TYPO HUNT], where editor meets road trip, is entertaining, informative, and thought-provoking, and one that any lover of language, travel — or both — will probably enjoy."
The Boston Globe

"[A]n illuminating hybrid of travelogue, English usage textbook and sociological experiment."
Washington Post

"[C]omplete with breezy writing, mock superhero prologues, and a serious mission to return phonics and proofreading to places of honor."
Christian Science Monitor

"Part classic road-trip narrative, buddy-love saga and state-of-the-nation survey, it's also an adventure thriller for grammar fiends, travel porn for copy editors and other enforcers of linguistic propriety."
Philadelphia Inquirer

"Deck and Herson show the reader that adventures in language needn’t be limited to the computer screen or printed page. In their view, the real excitement’s out there on the open road, and they want you to share it."
—Richmond Times-Dispatch

"[B]reezy and fun....most interesting when it delves into issues of class and race...and in its discussion of the plasticity of the English language."

“This pair of kooks, with their high standards and principled civil disobedience, give me hope for the future of humanity.”
—Steven Pinker, Harvard College professor, Harvard University, and author of The Language Instinct and The Stuff of Thought
“A compelling read! Deck and Herson have brilliantly combined the exploratory curiosity of the travel writer, the human interest of the story-teller, and the explanatory detail of the language specialist into an original, humorous, and engaging narrative. Anyone interested in language standards, attitudes, and education should read this enticing book.”
—David Crystal, author of Just a Phrase I'm Going Through and By Hook or By Crook: a Journey in Search of English

“Only Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson could make the complete decline of the English language so entertaining. It's heartening to accompany these two young men on their quixotic quest to identify and rehabilitate the typos, spellos, and prepostrophes that threaten to bring down civilization as we know it.”
—Richard Lederer, author of Anguished English

“With sly humor and pitch-perfect tone, Jeff and Benjamin take us on a hilarious ride in a '97 Sentra around the U.S.A. in search of malapropisms and misprints on everything from menus to marquees, bumpers to billboards.  It's a spell-checker's On the Road, a Strunk & White Odyssey, a charming Travels with My Dictionary with two young men who start as linguists and end as friends.”
—Michael Malone, author of Handling Sin and The Four Corners of the Sky
“In this seriously funny--and seriously thoughtful--book, a simple typo hunt becomes something more: an investigation into the deeper mysteries of orthographical fallibility. To err is human; to correct, divine!”
—Patricia T. O'Conner, author of Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English

“A funny and obsessive adventure that any language lover will appreciate.”
—David Wolman, author of Righting the Mother Tongue:  From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307591074
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/3/2010
  • Pages: 269
  • Product dimensions: 8.80 (w) x 11.04 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

JEFF DECK served as an associate editor for Rocks & Minerals magazine and his short stories have appeared in The Furnace Review and Boston Literary Magazine. He won two spelling bees in junior high.
BENJAMIN D. HERSON has been a bookseller for the past eight years. His short stories have appeared in Dan River Anthology and Down in the Dirt.
They are the somewhat fearless leaders of the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL).


From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt

How to Change the World
J u n e 8 – 10, 2007 (Hanover, NH)
Wherein Jeff Deck, unassuming Editor, has his measure taken by a flurry of his peers and learns that his Destiny is to serve a Higher Cause; whereupon he recognizes the Sign of his quest in an errant sign which warns ’gainst either geographic indiscretion or trading locks of hair.
On a fine June weekend in 2007, in the verdant reaches of northern New Hampshire, I decided to change the world.
The world needed changing— that I knew. Global warming threatened to give us all a lethal tan; war and poverty decimated whole nations; crops worldwide were shriveling; even our brethren beasts menaced us with their monkeypox and bird flu and mad cow disease. I just couldn’t figure out what I could do for our troubled civilization.
Those thoughts echoed in my head as I drove into the idyllic little town of Hanover, New Hampshire, for my five- year college reunion. I’d been toying with the idea of a road trip. Oil addiction and carbon emissions aside, I had to count myself among the many Americans who regarded their cars as a signifier for freedom itself. Any day I could get into my iron steed and— escape. I hadn’t, so far, but I could. I could explore the country, embark on towering adventures, and simultaneously fulfill some noble purpose. Yes, a road trip seemed like a fine idea, but I didn’t know what was worth seeing and, more crucially, I didn’t know how to infuse the trip with the sparkling sap of magnificence. How do people blunder into conditions that their unique abilities alone can resolve? I couldn’t trust that I would wander into a situation where only my intimate knowledge of Final Fantasy lore would defuse a standoff between two rival video-game-obsessed street gangs. I pondered that as I pulled into a parking spot and ventured off to find my classmates.
To exacerbate the matter, it turned out that five years was more than enough time for my fellow graduates to work miracles in the public and private sectors. My heart beat at techno tempo as I listened to tales of the most astonishing exploits and ennobling acts of virtue. I talked with one woman who was slowly restoring ecosystems damaged by the rapacious engines of industry. Another guy, a lawyer, sought to break up harmful corporate monopolies. Others were doctors, bankers, and politicos, all positioned to alter the great trajectory of civilization. And then there was me.
“So, Jeff, what have you been doing?” they’d ask, with the unspoken postscript: “. . . for humanity?”
Unlike my classmates, I hadn’t erected any schools for Balinese orphans or wrested any kittens from death’s blasting maw. After graduating, I’d moved to the Washington, D.C., area to see what I could do with the skills I’d picked up from a creative writing degree. The chief export of the nation’s capital is, of course, paperwork, so I reckoned I could land some kind of writing or editing position at one of the many nonprofits and associations in the area. An academic publishing house in Dupont Circle took me in and nursed me on the Chicago Manual of Style. I burned a few years there as an editor, managing two strangely divergent publications: a magazine about rocks and minerals, appropriately titled Rocks & Minerals, and a New Age y journal about consciousness transformation and other inscrutable bits of pseudo academia. Neither topic was exactly my area of expertise. My qualifications for the job rested mainly on my ability to ferret out spelling and grammatical mistakes in text. I found that I was a natural, spotting typos with idiot-savant-esque regularity. I hadn’t had this kind of chance to show off my geeky prowess since winning consecutive junior-high spelling bees. In high school I’d branched out from mere spelling perfectionism to the full gamut of editing delights on behalf of my school paper. At the publishing house, I could water my little patch of textual earth,
checking that fluorite was spelled with the u before the o, and that the names of Norse gods had the ðs that they required.
This sufficed for a while, but eventually I noticed the distinct lack of influence that my little labors had on the world outside my publications. I felt the call to return to New England, and I traded D.C. for Boston to be closer to family and old friends. Now I worked as an administrative assistant for a center at MIT that studied climate change, but my heart remained that of a reviser and corrector.
Outside the reunion tent, I bumped into Kevin, an occasional buddy in our college days; he was one of those genial and imperturbable people you wish, upon crossing his path later, you’d known better. I related my minor publication successes, a short story here and there, and that I had at least found work in my field (for a while) as an editor before moving to Boston. Then I asked him, “You’d been doing all that sports broadcasting for the college radio. Did you ever do anything with that?”
“Sorta started to,” he began. It had been difficult at first. Even before he’d left Dartmouth, he’d begun sending out tapes of his broadcasts. A year out of college, he was still sending them out and had gotten a job selling suits to pay his bills, and he decided he needed a new plan. While keeping his job in the evenings, he took a broadcasting class at a local trade school, which got him access to an internship at a television station. This was his ticket back into broadcasting. Over the intervening years, he’d proven himself through the internship and had become a key player at the news station. “So, now I’m in charge of the ten-o’clock news, Monday through Friday nights.”
“Wait . . . you’re the guy picking which stories go on the air?”
“That’s part of the job. I mean, that goes hand-in-hand with assigning the stories to people.”
“Which you do, too?” He nodded. Kevin’s story brought the rest of my classmates’ stories into perspective. Determination seemed to be the factor that elevated an ordinary destiny into a life of impact.
That night the reunion featured an event on the upper level of Dartmouth’s sprawling arts center, usually known as “the Hop.” While old comrades, crushes, and foes merged into a perspiring mass on the dance floor, I mulled the question of my destiny outside on the rooftop patio. There I could gaze at the campus quad, the Green, and, beyond it, the eternal phallus of Baker Tower, our axis mundi. As I leaned on the rail, cooling under the Hanover moon, I couldn’t fathom how an editor would go heroically forth among the populace. While medical school or law school served as a straightforward way of approaching a concrete goal, I just didn’t see myself taking up a stethoscope or a gavel. I had to hew to my own talents and strengths, but what instrument could I wield in the great clashes of our era? A red pen? I realized that no matter how I angled my approach to this problem, I’d need to strive beyond my daytime duties as an administrative assistant. Even if the professor I worked for were to go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize (which he did manage to do later that year, with Al Gore), I could not be satisfied with “administrative assistant” as the apogee of my career.
The next day I returned to my apartment in Somerville, Massachusetts, close to some revelation but unable to quite pin it down. In the glaring light of my reunion, I retook an inventory of my current situation. I had plenty of friends nearby, and my aforementioned job at MIT at least paid well. My rent remained cheap, since the landlady’s parents had plastered the house with religious propaganda, scaring off general interest in the property. Things were, all in all, not so bad.
The breezy summer afternoon beckoned to me, so I ambled outside. Maybe I’d seek out a hot dog in Davis Square. But fate intervened between me and that dog. Halfway to my destination, a large white and red object— appalling to any sensitive eye— froze me in my tracks!
no tresspassing.
The sign had been taunting passersby with that loathsome extra s for who knew how long. It hung on a wooden fence around a vacant lot next to a dentist’s office. Sure, I’d noticed this sign before; dozens of walks to Davis Square had occasioned dozens of silent fist-shakings at this very spot. This time, though, the sign’s offense struck deeper. How many spelling mistakes had I noticed over the years in shop windows, street signs, menus, billboards, and other public venues? Countless, I thought.
Not an enterance.
NYC Pizza and Pasta at it’s best!
Get palm reading’s here!
To/too, their/there/they’re, and your/ you’re confusion, comma and apostrophe abuse, transpositions and omissions, and other sins against intelligibility too heinous to dwell on. Each one on its own amounted to naught but a needle of irritation thrusting into my tender hide. But together they constituted a larger problem, a social ill that cried out for justice.
For a champion, even.
I stared at that no tresspassing sign, and I wondered: Could I be the one? What if I were to step forward and do something? The glare from the extra s seemed to mock me. Sure, others before me had recognized that there was a problem afoot in modern English. Plenty of people had made much hay of ridiculing spelling and grammatical errors on late-night shows and in humor books and on websites weighted with snark. But: Who among them had ever bothered with actual corrective action? So far as I knew, not a soul. A lambent vision descended upon me, like the living wheels revealed unto Ezekiel. In it, I saw myself armed with Wite-Out and black marker, waging a campaign of holy destruction on spelling and grammatical mistakes. The picture widened to describe not just my neighborhood, not just the Boston area or even the august span of the Bay State, but the entire nation.
There was my answer—typo hunting was the good that I, Jeff Deck, was uniquely suited to visit upon society.
I would change the world, one typo correction at a time.
I turned back toward home, abandoning thoughts of hot dogs, and locked myself in my room, as typo-free a warren as one would expect. Typos might leap out from anywhere— were, in fact, everywhere. How should I go about this quest? And would I be alone in my fight, against the whole world? Then it all clicked into place, and the vision stuck. I already had one ally, the Sleipnir to my Odin: Callie, my car. That road trip I’d wanted to take! This would be the motivational engine that I’d been missing. I think I collapsed onto the bed, the force of revelation knocking me unconscious, the proverbial lightbulb blinding me with its incandescent flare. Of course, I had also missed lunch.
When I came to, I decided I should attempt another outing, but this one with much more purpose. I immediately bought a sizable wall map of the United States and tacked it over my bed. With the sunset casting an eerie glow through my apartment, I stood enraptured by the sheer span of the nation. So many tiny names, so many roads. Quite a profusion of territory over which to spread the gospel of good grammar— at least several thousand miles. I’d make a loop of the country’s perimeter, since that seemed the best method for (a) seeing the most of this mammoth republic and (b) avoiding covering the same ground twice.
Are you sure about this? quoth the doubting raven in the dark aerie of my mind. Are you sure, are you sure?
“Shut your beak,” I growled. True, my history did not especially glimmer with derring-do. First off, I had been terrified of driving at least until my early twenties, and my travels to date had never taken me west of Ohio; much of the country, most of it, lay beyond my ken. That in itself could argue for the adventure, but I wondered if I might be getting in over my head, setting too many new challenges at once. I’d been shy growing up, not prone to speaking out of turn or, well, speaking much at all. Once I started going around the country trying to correct typos, I’d inevitably have to talk to other people. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this mission of mine would force me to continually confront strangers—oftentimes over their own mistakes! How far did I honestly estimate that I had come from the meek days of yore?
I chose to put these worries aside. I had plenty of time to address them, while other, more tangible items needed immediate attention. Certainly I wouldn’t be able to take a vacation from work for long enough to travel across the country, correcting typos as I went, so I’d have to leave my job. I’d need to set my sights on loftier concerns than income. Spider-Man always had money trouble, after all. If I took the leap for typo hunting in the pursuit of a better, more grammatically correct world, so be it.
I could still be sensible in my preparations, though. The trip itself would cost some serious bread. I had a savings account with some starter funds hoarded away, and I earned enough that I could save much more. If I cut costs by not going out as much, packing my lunch more often, and refraining from any extraneous purchases, I could probably save a significant chunk of change. I wouldn’t want to travel the nation in the winter anyway, so I figured I could stay at my job through December and then take a couple of months to organize full-time all the little details of the trip. Not only would I have the chance to build up a respectable bank account, but I could also take more time to analyze the various aspects of this trip and decide if I really and truly could pull it all off.
I reached for a pencil on my desk to start jotting down some notes, and somehow I grabbed a Sharpie instead. It felt right in my hand, as though it had always belonged there. This, I thought, could be the tool to make a hero.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2010

    Travel and Grammar Fun

    The Great Typo Hunt is a fantastic read that honestly had me laughing out loud at times (usually on a crowded bus or train). It's a road trip story of two friends who have a crazy idea: drive around the country correcting typos. Their adventures and the typos they find along the way not only make you laugh but also make you want to cry at what some of these mistakes say about the American population. They found over 400 typos on their trip and learned a lot about society along the way. A part that really resonated with me was when they discussed people's innate fear of looking stupid. Many people along the way would rather leave the sign incorrect then admit that they had made an error. They discussed how people sometimes limit their written vocabulary in an attempt to hide their lack of understanding about spelling and grammar. As a young child I remember being told that I could never be smart because I was a bad speller. An even now, as an adult with an BA from an Ivy league institution and an MBA from one of the top business schools in the country, I still find myself dumbing down emails, texts, Facebook posts, and even book review posts in an attempt to hide my inability to spell. That section not only shook me to the core but made me realize that I was not alone. Trust me, something about this book will resonate with you. And if nothing else, you will certainly understand proper apostrophe usage and you will become aware of the immense amount of typos that exist in the written text you pass by every day. If you like travel, adventure, or even grammar, this book is a great read and will have you discussing it with friends for days.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 28, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Entertaining, engaging and informative, all rolled into one

    I remember reading about "the great typo hunt" in the papers-which are, of course, a valuable source of lesser typos. I'm not particularly good at spotting errors in casual writing, or at spelling either, though I do know the rules and can usually apply them with a little help from my computer. So I reserve a special sympathy for those whose signage lacks accuracy. Also, I like rebelling against a teacher mother and a husband who's very detail-oriented. "Play In Doors or Out" evokes quiet smiles from me and thoughts of what type of story a child playing in a door might one day produce, but it rarely causes pain. Still, with a book like The Great Typo Hunt those quiet smiles might be quickly overtaken by laughing out loud. Jeff Deck and his fellow typo-hunters certainly found a fun and intriguing collection, and tell the tale quite delightfully, with all the right accompaniment of hilarious images and self-doubt-do we need rules, who sets the rules, why are the rules how they are, and who can learn them anyway? (In fact, the book even ends with a pretty clear description of the rules-if only I'd been taught them as a kid, instead of picking them up from sitting in classes where my own kids were learning-bad habits are so hard to lose.)

    Jeff Deck set off on a trip around the States to correct typos, using his natural skills to better the world of American signs, and communicating with a wealth of fascinating people on the way. Benjamin D. Herson accompanied him on part of his journey, most significantly on the part that garnered the greatest newspaper attention. And I found myself with vague memories of the story evolving into a court case at some point, instead of an "isn't this interesting" segment at the end of the news. Meanwhile readers share the journey, enjoying the triumph of an occasional "Yes, please fix it," the adrenalin rush of the stealth correction, and the agony of those mistakes yet left unmended, still tormenting passers-by.

    The story is told with amusing candor in non-threatening tone with educational overtones, and lots to think about. It's truly a delight, zany in a fine intellectual way, poignant in an oh-what-a-crazy-world-we-live-in kind of way, and thought-provoking too-a pleasingly descriptive trip across and around the States as well as an investigation into people, defensiveness, education and communication. When this book comes out in paperback I shall buy my own copy. Meanwhile I'll thank a friend for lending her hardback to me, and I'll thank my computer for spell-check and grammar-check.

    Disclosure: I borrowed this book from a friend who bought it from a store where one of the authors works. Perhaps I'll meet him one day.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 14, 2012

    It Will Make You Wonder

    Mid way through this book, you have to stop and wonder how smart are fellow man is. Some of the spellings or misspelled words you see in this book are just too funny to understand....

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  • Posted February 27, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Waste of time and gray matter.

    Tedious and overblown; save your time and money.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2010

    Totally boring

    I ordered this book because I am 1) a former English teacher and 2) a longtime professional writer and editor with a sharp eye for typos. I was disappointed and bored. I am on page 88 and already skimming in hopes of getting to the end. I expected something witty and amusing. Instead, it's heavy going: ponderous and pretentious.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted October 10, 2010

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    Posted September 29, 2011

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    Posted July 11, 2011

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    Posted August 12, 2011

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