The Rapid Advancement of Wooden Puzzles!

The essential elements of puzzles are centuries old. The knot to be unraveled, the wordplay to be processed, the pieces to be reassembled, the message to be decoded, the inconsistency to be spotted.

And yet, puzzles continue to evolve, finding new ways to express and employ these ancient components into fresh, satisfying solving experiences.

We recently discussed the evolution of Rubik’s-style twisty puzzles thanks to 3-D printing and computer modeling, and the same is true for an even older puzzle style: wooden puzzles.

Wooden puzzles frequently adhere to one of several formats:

Many of these puzzles are still effective and satisfying challenges today. If you’ve ever tried to hold four pieces in place at once in order to assemble a wooden camel, or suss out the dozen or so steps to open a himitsu-bako (or Japanese puzzle box), you know what I’m talking about.

Of course, like their twisty counterparts, these puzzles have only grown more complex over time.

And a relatively recent addition to the arsenal of wooden puzzle designers and creators is at-home laser cutters allowing for efficient production of puzzles and pieces at an affordable rate.

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Over the years, we’ve seen projects like Cirkusu and the Baffledazzle line of specialized jigsaw puzzles, as well as the hit Kickstarter project Codex Silenda (which even appeared in an episode of NCIS: New Orleans), thanks to crowdfunding campaigns and affordable laser cutters.

Check out some of the most recent wooden puzzles I’ve encountered, created through laser cutter design:

Martin Raynsford’s Antikythera Tablets

This collection of five puzzle tablets, each themed around different aspects of Greek mythology, create a beautiful and well-constructed narrative chain that feels brilliantly unique and immersive.

iDventure’s Cluebox Escape Rooms in a Box

These multi-stage puzzle boxes are completely self-contained. You need to explore every inch of its surface to find clues and tools to unlock each stage of the puzzle box and reveal further challenges!

The field has advanced so far in just last few years, so who knows where wooden puzzles will go in the future?

Have you seen any mind-blowing wooden brain teasers that you’d recommend, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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The Newest Twist on Twisty Puzzles!

history

[Picture courtesy of Rubiks.com.]

Rubik’s Cubes and other twisty puzzles come in all shapes and sizes. With the advent of 3-D printing and innovative home designs that can be shared with a few clicks, the field is constantly evolving. This is a huge plus for puzzle fans.

Naturally, there are puzzle designers who aspire to make the largest twisty puzzle possible. In previous blog posts, we’ve chronicled some of these ambitious endeavors.

One of the first to draw the attention of online solvers was Oskar van Deventer’s 17x17x17 cube known as the “Over the Top” Rubik’s Cube.

Here’s a video of someone solving this diabolical design:

This was later topped by a design by corenpuzzle, who created a 22x22x22 cube. The build was so complex that the cube actually exploded (twice!) during construction.

But it’s not only cube-style twisty puzzles that are drawing the attention of designers. There’s also the minx series of twisty puzzles.

These are dodecahedrons rather than cubes. A dodecahedron is a 12-sided shape formed from pentagons. The smallest of this form is known as a kilominx.

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The megaminx version (pictured above) was the first to attract greater attention in the puzzle world. It had 50 moving parts, as opposed to the 20 movable pieces of a standard Rubik’s Cube. You can find all sorts of solving videos on YouTube featuring megaminx puzzles.

The quest to build the largest minx-style twisty puzzle has taken puzzling to strange new places. Gigaminx, Petaminx, and more followed as the puzzles grew increasingly complex.

For a while, the champion of these puzzles was Matt Bahner, who created the Yottaminx. It’s a basketball-sized twisty puzzle that took four months to build. With 2,943 parts, it’s the twisty equivalent of a 15x15x15 cube.

Here you can see Bahner showing off his creation:

No record stands forever, though, and corenpuzzle recently returned to the top of the leaderboards with Atlasminx, the new record holder.

This 19-layer dodecahedron weighs in at over 17 pounds, and was assembled from 4,863 moving parts.

Skip to 1:53 to see the finished version of the puzzle and see it in action.

You could literally spend a lifestyle twisting and turning that puzzle and never reach the end.

These mindbending designs continue to wow solvers everywhere while pushing the creative envelope in clever new ways, and I’m definitely not alone in saying we cannot wait to see what comes next.


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A Delicious New Twist on Rubik’s Famous Cube?

Rubik’s Cube solving has come a long way since Erno Rubik built his prototype out of wood in 1974.

Top solvers are so fast that they need specially designed cubes that spin fast enough to match their fingers. We’ve seen them solved blindfolded, underwater, while being juggled, and during a skydive.

We’ve chronicled dozens of variations on the classic model, covering everything from larger cubes (4×4, 5×5, even 17×17!) to different shapes like spheres, pyramids, and dodecahedrons.

Heck, with the 3-D printing revolution, people are designing and making their own Rubik’s Cube-style twisty puzzles from the comfort of home!

Still, every once in a while, the thought crosses my mind that I’ve probably seen everything that people can do with Rubik’s Cubes, short of one being solved during a spacewalk or on the moon.

And then someone goes and invents a Rubik’s Cube that looks like Maruchan instant noodles.

megahouse rubik

Yes, say hello to the Midori no Tanuki twisty puzzle.

What appears to be a traditional package of Maruchan Midori no Tanuki instant soba noodles is instead one of the fiendish Rubik’s-style puzzles ever devised.

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It works like a standard Rubik’s Cube — a 3×3 twistable cube — but five of the six sides are based on a 3D scan of noodles. Only the top is distinguished by a tempura disk “atop” the noodles.

You would think this would make solving it easier. After all, who cares what the five virtually identical sides look like as long as you can arrange the pieces of the tempura disk on top?

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But apparently, that’s not the case at all. There is only one arrangement of this six-sided cube that allows for the tempura disk to be properly formed. So you don’t have five sides you can disregard. Instead, you’re essentially solving five sides blindfolded while focusing on the top one.

That sounds like a challenge worthy of modern Rubik’s Cube solvers. Hopefully we start seeing reports of folks tackling this daunting brain teaser, and we can begin to get a sense of how long it takes to solve and how difficult the average puzzler would find it.

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All we know for now is that we’re not supposed to pour water on it, no matter how delicious it looks.

What do you think, fellow puzzlers? Would you accept the challenge of the Midori no Tanuki puzzle? Is it really as difficult as reported, or do you think it’s just a lot of hype to sell a puzzle? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Sword in Stone, Cathedral Door, and Grecian Computer

Puzzles come in many forms, all shapes and sizes, but there’s probably no puzzle genre that offers more variety and range in difficulty than mechanical brain teasers.

The physical element adds so much to the solving experience that cannot be replicated in other puzzle styles. Whether you’re assembling pieces into a given shape, manipulating two pieces to separate them (or put them together), or twisting and turning a puzzle until it becomes the desired shape, mechanical brain teasers offer a world of possibility.

And in today’s product review, we’ve got three different varieties of brain teaser to test out, all courtesy of the creative minds at Project Genius. All three are part of their True Genius line of wooden brain teasers, rated for ages 14 and up, and each has its own ranking on a scale of 1 to 5 in difficulty.

Without further ado, let’s get solving!

Our trilogy of puzzle styles begins with a 3-out-of-5-star difficulty brain teaser. To conquer Sword in Stone, you must live out the legend of an ancient knight who plunged his sword into a stone and must remove it from its new home.

The sword can move up or down depending on how you twist the hilt back and forth, hoping to outmaneuver a maze of different paths you cannot see. It’s a marvelous little puzzle where you have to build a model of its interior in your mind by process of elimination, turning the sword this way and that, lifting and lowering it in stages until it’s free.

[Yes, I’m posting this to prove I solved it.
But I’ve hidden the key’s details to prevent spoilers.]

You really do feel like a champion once you’ve made the final twist and the sword slips from its forever tomb. There’s a playful give-and-take between you and the brain teaser that encapsulates the patience, determination, and deductive skill necessary to be a strong puzzler.

But then, once you’re completed the Herculean task, you have to put it back into place. And despite the fact that you’ve literally just performed the last few steps, doing them in reverse and returning the blade to the stone is even harder.

I thoroughly enjoyed tackling his mechanical puzzle. It hit the sweet spot of challenge and satisfaction without taking up too much solving time. It won’t take you 900 years to crack this one, but that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile.

For a more traditional jigsaw-style solving experience, you can try Cathedral Door, a 4-out-of-5-star difficulty brain teaser. Again, the challenge laid before you sounds simple: reassemble this beautiful door by placing all of the pieces of wooden adornment into the stained glass pattern.

Yes, this one even helps you place the wooden pieces by offering a color pattern to follow, with various shapes leaving outlines for you to complete with the many wooden jigsaw-style pieces.

Of course, these pieces are unique in shape and design, some of them squat and complex, others long, thin, and rangy. It’s amazing how many ways you can place these puzzle pieces that seem to fit the pattern to a tee. With seemingly infinite permutations, how will you ever put them all back?

And yet, when you place a piece properly, it immediately feels right. It’s a very curious solving sensation — knowing for sure that a piece FITS somewhere, even if the other pieces around it haven’t been placed yet — but it’s one that makes solving Cathedral Door a very engaging challenge. I didn’t find it all that much harder than Sword in Stone, so I’m not sure a full star in difficulty difference is warranted, but this remains an eye-catching and challenging puzzle.

We round out our trifecta of brain teasers by maxing out the difficulty scale with this 5-out-of-5-star-ranked mathematical puzzle, Grecian Computer, created as a spiritual successor of the Antikythera Mechanism. And undoubtedly, this puzzle might leave people just as baffled as the piece that inspired it.

You must spin and twist this wooden “computer” until the numbers in all twelve columns add up to 42 at the same time. That’s daunting in and of itself. But it’s more than just spinning various dials.

There are cut-outs in some wheels where the numbers below can be shown, flaps that block other numbers, and joined pieces that spin together. Each of the four wheels — plus the base — have numbers at all 12 clock positions, and even a small rotation can vastly change the arrangement of numbers in front of you.

It genuinely feels like the mathematical equivalent of a Rubik’s Cube, each twist bringing one column to completion while leaving others further than ever from a unified solution. There are a lot of variables at play here, and it can be a little frustrating.

And yet, you never despair. You never feel like giving up. Each small victory, each alignment that makes sense in your head, inches you closer, and before long, you’re spinning and twisting like a dervish, eliminating false paths and unhelpful combinations en route to victory.

This brain teaser most definitely deserves the 5-out-of-5 difficulty rating, and it’s also beautifully engineered. The bottom wheel spins at the barest touch, and while others have more resistance, you can’t help but marvel at this well-made and devious machine.


Sword in Stone, Cathedral Door, and Grecian Computer are all available through Project Genius as well as certain online retailers.

Whether you’re looking for a deduction puzzle, an assembly puzzle, or a twisty puzzle, one of these impressive brain teasers from Project Genius is sure to hit the spot. And all three are part of this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, coming soon, so be sure to check it out!

[Note: I received a free copy of each brain teaser in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]


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A Puzzly Guinness World Record You Can Help Break!

guinness20205

[Image courtesy of Amazon.]

How would you like the opportunity to be part of a new Guinness World Record?

Well, this Thursday, you can take part in a world record attempt with the team from Rubik’s, and you don’t even have to leave home to do so!

rubik

[Click here for more details and to sign up for a giveaway!]

Yes, at 3 PM Eastern, 12 Pacific, Rubik’s will host a solving lesson on YouTube and they’re looking to draw the largest audience of Rubik’s Cube fans in history to learn the tricks of the trade and earn a world record along the way.

Of course, there’s probably no other puzzle or puzzly product that has as many Guinness World Records associated with it.

We’ve chronicled many of these in the past, covering everything from fastest solves to strangest solving conditions. We’ve seen various sized Cubes solved in seconds, blindfolded solves, and one-handed solves.

We’ve seem them solved upside-down, while juggling, while on a pogo stick, while underwater, while running a marathon, while on a bike, and even while skydiving.

There are records for the largest number solved while riding a unicycle and for the most people simultaneously solving them (over 3000!), and now, Rubik is inviting fans to participate in another puzzly adventure.

What a cool way to bring people together in a time where social distancing, Coronavirus concerns, social unrest, and more might be making people feel isolated.

And hey, if it succeeds, “Guinness World Record Holder” will look pretty good on your resume!

Will you be participating, fellow puzzlers? Or have you already mastered the Rubik’s Cube? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!


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Watch Celebrities Tackle an Escape Room for Charity!

I know the last few months have been hard for a lot of people. But it’s also been inspiring to see communities rally and work together, even while social distancing, to take care of each other. And loads of creative folks out there have been raising money for charity in clever and entertaining ways.

In the last few weeks alone, we’ve seen examples like the cast of the TV show Community reuniting on behalf of World Central Kitchen and Frontline Foods, Twitch streamer Rachel Howie supporting St. Jude through gaming, and a puzzle bouquet to support safe maternity care worldwide, masterminded by Andrew Chaikin (with puzzles by Mike Selinker, Kid Beyond, Alison Muratore, and Sandor Weisz) and distributed through Lone Shark Games.

One of the biggest annual fundraisers is Red Nose Day, a yearly international event dedicated to eradicating child poverty. There are often special TV events tied into the Red Nose Day, and this year was no exception.

NBC employed a more puzzly route than most participating networks, as they presented an hour-long show dedicated to a celebrity-filled escape room.

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[Image courtesy of EOnline.]

Musician and actor Jack Black hosted, serving as the exuberant and maniacal gamemaster for the event. Ben Stiller, Adam Scott, Courteney Cox, and Lisa Kudrow were the celebrity players, and they had one hour to escape Jack’s series of rooms. For each puzzle they successfully solved, they would earn $15,000 in charitable donations from the event’s sponsor, M&Ms.

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[Image courtesy of NoReruns.net.]

Jack explained the rules, and then informed them that they were allowed three hints to help them solve the puzzles. Each hint was represented by a red clown nose, the official symbol of Red Nose Day.

You can watch the entire special video below, or continue reading for a recap of the show and a breakdown of each puzzle:


RECAP

The celebs were escorted into an elevator and sent on their way. The team immediately started trying to figure out how to escape.

But the elevator wasn’t a puzzle room. Jack was just messing with them, sending the elevator up and down before opening it.

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The group’s first actual challenge was an 80’s themed room, which contained not only numerous references to the decade (posters, movies, decor, etc.), but references to each actor’s career to serve as a distraction. Jack Black informed the audience of two key locations to pay attention to — a photo wall and the table with pizza on it — but didn’t explain the actual puzzles.

Courteney Cox stumbled upon a clue — a recorded message from Jennifer Lopez — that sent the celebs to their yearbooks on one of the shelves. Inside, they each found a different variation of a picture of people sitting on a couch, each one with more people in it.

Ben Stiller not only realized that they needed to be placed somewhere in order, but spotted where to do so.

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The photo wall was a 3×4 grid, with 8 photos already placed and 4 open spaces. My first instinct would have been to place the photos in order of the rows (as if reading the photos in storyboard order from left to right, row to row).

But the photos had to be placed in column order from left to right, ignoring the rows. Courteney figured this out, and a couch folded out from the wall. Having successfully completed a puzzle, $15,000 was added to the team’s charity total.

By all sitting on the couch, they activated the TV, which aired a commercial for Rubik’s Cubes. Ben realized the pizza and tablecloth in the center of the room were covering a giant Rubik’s Cube. (Instead of being rotated and twisted, this one had removable magnetic blocks, which made solving it easier.)

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[Image courtesy of WhatsNew2Day.]

By completing the puzzle (and earning another $15,000), the room’s window opened onto a school hallway set.

Jack directed the audience’s attention toward a clue on the floor, a mascot head in the trophy case, and to the lockers along the corridor.

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[Image courtesy of WhatsNew2Day.]

The celebs immediately started checking the lockers, but they were all locked. While searching for their next puzzle, the celebs misinterpreted a banner that said “Let’s get loud” and started screaming.

It’s silly, but hey, in an escape room, sometimes you’ll try anything.

Ben spotted the clue on the floor, and Courteney realized that some of the floor tiles could be pulled up, revealing a picture puzzle to be assembled. They solved the puzzle — a picture of Jack in a mascot costume — and it opened the trophy case. That made their charity total rise to $45,000.

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When Adam put the mascot head on, the lights dimmed, and he began looking for the next clue. Three of the celebs tried the mascot head on, but they couldn’t find anything. So they used one of their red noses and asked for a hint.

Jack intervened and told them to direct the mascot head’s vision toward the lockers. On certain lockers, the mascot’s head revealed in invisible ink the birthdays of the four players. After some difficulty, Adam realized they should open the lockers in birthday order, which caused all four to open. (Four puzzles completed, $60,000 earned.)

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As the other players removed letterman jackets from the lockers, Courteney stepped into her locker (which was larger inside than the others) and Jack shut it behind her, seemingly locking her in. While trying to figure out how to free Courteney, they all decided to put their jackets on.

Jack directed the audience to pay attention to the janitor’s closet, the trophy case, and the cubby area for the next puzzle.

Courteney discovered her locker secretly led into the locked janitor’s closet. Meanwhile, the other players found prom tickets in their jackets.

The Red Nose Day Special - Season 2020

[Image courtesy of TV Insider.]

Unable to free Courteney (the inside door handle came off in her hand), the celebs were flummoxed again, even trying to play rock-paper-scissors to open the door. (Bafflingly, Ben doesn’t know how to play.) They decided to ask for their second Red Nose hint. Jack pointed them toward the janitor’s to-do list, which has four tasks on it, three completed.

The unfinished task referenced the water fountain, and upon investigating it, Adam found the door handle for the janitor’s closet, freeing Courteney (and earning another $15,000).

Doing so activated the TV in the trophy case, and special guest “Principal” Kelly Clarkson provided a year-in-review that recounted the trophy won by each celeb, and suggested they hang up their jackets on the Wall of Fame (the cubby area).

The celebs missed the trophy clue and just hung their jackets up (not realizing that the trophies — first place, second place, third place, and fourth place — indicated the order of the jackets).

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They tried birthday order again, then headed back to the trophy case, realized their mistake, and put the jackets in the correct order, earning another $15,000 for charity.

Part of the locker wall then opened up to reveal a room decorated for prom, complete with balloons and a space for couple/group photos. Jack directed viewers to pay attention to the clock on the wall, the photos of couples on the wall, and the photography setup.

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Relying on the clue “it’s almost time for crown the king and queen,” they puzzled out that there are clocks on all of the photos, but it reads 9 PM for the crowned couple.

Courteney eventually realized there was a stepladder that would allow her to reach the clock, and rotated it until it read 9 PM. (Their charity total was now $105,000!)

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Completing the puzzle activated the lights in the photo area. They posed for their picture, and when they snapped it, the balloon wall burst, revealing a gym decorated for prom. (It also scared the daylights out of them, which made for a great prom photo.)

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Jack then fully explained the next puzzle to the audience, as the celebs had to match the images on their prom tickets to certain champagne bottles (filled with M&Ms) on the refreshments table, which would then point them to particular light-up squares on the electronic dance floor.

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The celebs immediately zeroed in on the symbols on the champagne bottles, but didn’t know what to do with them. Jack taunted them, hoping to goad them into using their third and final hint, until Courteney spotted the matching symbol on her prom ticket.

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Now finally pairing up bottles of M&M champagne, Courteney again figured out that the colors of each pair of bottles should combine to match the color of the podium they’re placed on. It’s a pretty impressive bit of puzzling, I must admit.

Each time they placed a pair of bottles correctly, part of the dance floor lit up.

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Unfortunately, they confused the colors required to make pink with the colors needed to make orange, which slowed them down. Fixing their mistake and completing the puzzle, they ran to the dance floor with another $15,000 for charity.

The dance floor was a 4×4 grid, with each player standing in a different colored square in the bottom row. As the dance floor lit up in a sequential pattern of lights, the team realized they were playing a Simon-style game where they had to step forward in a certain order to match the pattern of colored lights displayed on the floor.

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There were three rounds of the game. The first (and simplest) required a single step each onto the second row. The second required two steps (meaning eight total moves in order), and third required three steps (meaning a more complicated twelve-step order).

Once they sorted out their timing issues in the first round, they flew through the second and third rounds, solving the puzzle and earning another $15,000.

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Jack then instructed the group to go onstage and sing their way out of the room as their final challenge. He noted they only had 9 and a half minutes left to escape.

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A video wall across the room activated, and Adam and Mike, the two remaining Beastie Boys, wished them luck. When Jack started playing guitar over the intercom, Ben recognized the song as “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party),” which they’d have to sing karaoke-style to escape.

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But Lisa didn’t know the song, and she consistently botched the rhythm on each of her turns. Thankfully, that didn’t hinder the group too much, and after being startled one last time (with victory confetti), they escaped the prom with a total $150,000 for charity, and a little over 6 minutes to spare.

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Honestly, as a fan of escape rooms, I really enjoyed this. It’s a great — if highly budgeted — example of this puzzle genre, and a strong introduction for anyone who has never tried them.

The puzzles ranged from simple to moderately hard, but for the most part were fairly intuitive. Also, while it’s embarrassing in the moment to try silly things and draw dumb conclusions while trying to solve puzzles, it’s also very entertaining to watch someone else do the same.

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[Image courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter.]

All in all, it was a fun event hosted for a great cause, and the four celebrity players (plus gamemaster Jack) made an engaging cast of characters. The little interviews interspersed throughout also added a lot. (Plus, at the end, we found out Courteney loves escape rooms, which explains her mad puzzle skills.)

If you’d like to contribute to the fine charity work Red Nose Day represents, please click here for more details.


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