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Mystery Factory


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SPY SCHOOL – Train your brain and your body for ADVENTURE

Spy School builds transferable skills in many areas.

FREE Instructions for setting up your own SPY SCHOOL


Whether you are getting together in person, online, or a combination of both, putting on a costume helps set the mood.

Have disguise items on hand for your young guests to turn themselves into spies with. Let them dress up as much or as little as they like.

HOWEVER, if a ‘spy-in-training’ has on three pieces of disguise or more, they get a secret spy name. Spies can choose their own name or you can help them pick a name – base it on something they are good at. Print the name on a sticker for them to wear.

Suggestions for your secret agent disguise dress up box:

  • Hats & Scarves    
  • Sunglasses  & Eyepatches  & Glasses with the lenses removed
  • Fake mustache/beards & Fake noses    
  • Ties
  • Flashy costume jewelry    
  • Boots & Shoes &   Belts    
  • Purses & bags        
  • Hair gel for funky styles    
  • Walking sticks    
  • Lipstick, eyeshadow, makeup    

Games can be played as activities or competitively.

Spy School Skills

*  Altered Evidence – Build short term memory strength
*  Close Shave – Fine motor dexterity, Risk assessment
*  Beat the Bomb – Calm under pressure
Keyhole Spyglass
*  Hot on the Trail

* Marshmallow Trebuchet
*  Mystery Bundle
*  Secret Signals
*  Silent Snoops
*  Hot Shots
*  Hideouts
*  Sniffing Out Clues
*  Snitch
*  Super Assassin
*  For Your Eyes Only
*  Undercover Operative Obstacle Course

Spy School Party Games

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Altered Evidence

Detectives must notice small changes that can happen while working on a case – attention to detail can make the difference between catching the crooks or letting them get away. Detectives will examine evidence and learn to spot the differences if the evidence is altered. This is a variation on the game of ‘memory’.
– Fill a suitcase with items then, hidden from view, remove or add things. If this is a child’s celebration of some kind you can theme the items in the case to highlight their particular interest; horses, nautical, glamour, skiing, or whatever they or their friends are currently passionate about.
– Dress a doll elaborately and then add or remove something. If they kids are older and need more of a challenge create a tableau for the doll to be placed in and then change items in the tableau as well. Give one or two children at a time the chance to be the one who changes things.
– You can also you a felt board and felt objects, a tray and various items, pictures cut out from a magazine on a table top and toys in a bathtub, you get the idea.
The smaller the items or changes the bigger the challenge.

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Close Shave

Detectives often find themselves in tight spots. Sometimes they need to have a steady hand in order to save the day. Maybe they will need to disarm a bomb in the near future. Give each child a well blown up balloon covered in shaving cream and a serrated plastic knife to scrape it off with. (Adults can use real razors.)
– Before you blow up the balloon write a riddle or clue on a piece of paper and stick it inside. If the balloon is shaved without popping then the detectives must pop it to get the clue out. Definitely an OUTDOOR game.

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Beat the Bomb

Set an alarm clock for five or ten minutes and hide it. The louder the alarm the better. It must be found before it goes off.
– The ‘bomb’ can be found and disabled by having the first person to find the clock turn the alarm off or as players find the clock they just leave it and tell the ‘head detective’ where it is, leaving it in place so that everyone has a chance to discover where the bomb is hidden before it blows.
– Players can dash around madly searching for the clock with no instructions at all or you can set up a series of a clue or two. If the clock is hidden in the fridge you can give them a riddle like “The bomb is hidden in a place that loses its cool when you pull the plug?”
– If you have a yard full of trees you can give them a note by the ‘Alarm Clock Bomber’, which tells them that the bomb is under a tree. Maybe they need to earn the note first. Have mini-scavenger hunt so that the players must bring you a black rock, something that starts with the letter ‘S’ and a dirty sock before they get the message. Those mad bombers like to send detectives chasing around before they get any clues to the bomb. Played by itself or with any of the above games. Adjust time accordingly.

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Keyhole Spyglass


What You Need:

  • Clear glass marble
  • Black construction paper
  • Clear tape
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Pencil

What You Do:

  • Have your child measure and cut a piece of black construction paper approximately 4” x 10.”
  • At one end of the strip have your child place the marble in the center of the paper and roll the paper as tight as possible.
  • Using a pencil, poke the marble to one end of the roll until it slightly protrudes from the paper as shown. Secure this end with a piece of tape around the paper.
  • Place the marble end of the spy tool against a keyhole or small space and look through the other area. Ask your child what he sees!

Try the keyhole spy tool in several different spaces and see what works best!
By Jake Friesen

Detective Constable Jake Friesen is a member of the Forensic Identification Unit with the Peterborough Lakefield Community Police Service in Ontario, Canada. Jake is highly trained in many disciplines of forensic science.

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Hot on the Trail

Start off the hunt by giving each Detective a list of items that have been stolen. For kids too young to read, use pictures. You can use items that are naturally around the house or hide things ahead of time. Detectives leave the items where they find them and check them off the list or write the location down. The game could end once everyone has found the items or it could continue. Get a bunch of small locks and keys and put them on bags or boxes with a prize or another clue inside. Each box could contain a sentence that is part of a clue which tells them where the birthday cake or loot bags are hidden. Once a child has found all the items they get a key and whichever box it opens is theirs.

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Marshmallow Trebuchet

Being able to hit a target is an extremely useful spy skill. Have your young secret agents build this simple trebuchet out of craft sticks, elastics and a plastic spoon. Sorry no building instructions – they’ll have to figure it out from the picture. You can help. Load them up with marshmallows, set up a target, and fire away.

Mystery Bundle

Sometimes Detectives have to identify things without seeing them. You can play this game where the players only get to look at the shape of an object or let them feel the object while it is inside of a cloth bag; either by placing their hands inside of the bag or feeling it from the outside of the bag. (Kind of like trying to guess what’s inside of your Christmas presents before you get to open them)
–  If the detectives only get to look at the items, wrap the object in paper or cloth so that its shape is discernible, especially for younger children. For example if it is a doll, wrap tightly with string around the neck, waist, and through the legs. Start simple so the sleuths can have a taste of success, at least in the beginning and then increase the challenge. Kids can take turns guessing the items or everyone can shout out their answers all together.
–  For older kids make the objects harder to guess and have them write their answers down. You can have them guess a number of items before giving them the answers to see how many they figured out correctly.

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Secret Signals

Introduce your Detectives to Charades! Detectives need to be send messages silently. Make a list of items or actions for the spies to send as messages by acting them out. See how quickly the others can guess what they are doing. Everyone gets a turn.
– Divide into two teams and have two or three people from each team act out an action but everyone on both teams writes down what they think the action is. Who figures out the most messages; your fellow spies or enemy agents?

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Silent Snoops

This is the classic game of Freeze, with a Spy School slant.
Detectives need to sneak around.  The half the kids are secret agents and pretend to search a place looking for clues. Blow a whistle warning them the crooks are returning and to freeze in place. As long as they are frozen they are invisible. The other kids, the crooks, come in and try to get the Detectives to move or make a sound, blink, giggle, smile, etc. – without touching them. Trade places.

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Hot Shots

Because being able to hit a target is so much fun and gives one such a sense of accomplishment, you can have more than one activity in Spy School dedicated to that aim.   Below are listed different sets if targets and ‘missiles’  for you to choose from. Pick the version that will work best for your place and the age of your players. Most of these are outdoor activities.
– Knock over styrofoam cups lined up on a outdoor table or fence with water guns.
– Place a target (a stuffy or doll dressed up as a ‘the bad guy’) in a tree and get the detectives knock it to the ground with wet sponges.
–  Set up a target or dart board and used sponges soaked in different colours of watercolour paint as ‘darts’. Super messy, lots of fun. Change the target frequently and let kids take home an ‘original’ piece of art.
– Give each child ten pennies, a line to stand behind, and a bucket with a wide opening to toss the pennies into. You can use small plastic animals from a dollar store rather than pennies if you prefer. If you have a space you can get wet, put water in the bucket. Add some food colouring to the water to spiff it up. Float blocks of wood in the water for the players to hit. At the end of the game divide the tossed objects up between the players to keep.
– Toss nerf balls or bean bags into a bucket or ping pong balls into tin cans. Vary the distance depending on the age of the players. If this is too easy the detectives should stand with their backs to the target and throw the balls over their shoulder.
– Hit a targeted container with a Frisbee
– Fill up a child’s pool with water and float styrofoam or plastic rings on the surface. Toss balls so they land inside of the rings.

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For the younger detectives. Set up ‘hideouts’ by draping blankets and tablecloths over the side of a table. Place something hefty (but not kid-damaging heavy if it falls) on the cloths to hold them in place. Have the blankets touch the floor on three sides, and not quite on the opening side. Populate the fort with pillows, books, toys, etc. Give each kid a small flashlight and send them in.

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Sniffing Out Clues

Detectives are often required to use all their senses when investigating a case. Using their heads, particularly their noses, Detectives will identify smells without being able to see what they are sniffing. Fill empty film canisters or other opaque containers with smelly items or essences and place a cotton ball or something else over the item so it can’t be seen. Be sure to number the containers and make yourself a list of what’s inside each one. The detectives can say or write down what they think each smell is. Try using onions, soap, rose, garlic, peppermint, fish, vanilla, mouthwash, cinnamon, essential oils, etc.

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Detectives need to be familiar with both sides of the ‘Snitching’ skill. They need to be able to sneak up on a person and snitch something, and they need to be able to sense when someone is sneaking up to snitch from them. Have the kids sit in a circle or line facing away from the centre of the circle or the person who is it. Place a two inch square piece of felt on each shoulder of the sitting person. The person who is the snitch must remove as many pieces of felt of possible without being caught. If someone feels the fabric being taken they call out “Snitch!” The snitch must be caught ‘in the act’ to be put out.

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Super Assassin

Can only be played on a sunny day. Take turns being the assassin; armed only with a mirror. The person who is ‘it’ chases the others and takes them out when they tag the person with a sunbeam reflected from the mirror.

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For Your Eyes Only

Eyes Only

Can be used for clues for other games or as a ‘stand alone’ game. Think of a word and write each letter (tiny letters) on a small piece of paper. Cut up extra pieces of paper and tape them up near or on the ceiling or some other place that the players can’t just walk up to. Give each detective a pair of binoculars. They write down each letter as they find them and then unscramble all of the letters to figure out the word or clue that was hidden.  This could be someone’s middle name or the name of a movie, etc.

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Undercover Operative Obstacle Course

Disguises can save a sleuth from being identified and tickled by his enemies. But disguises are only as good as the detective who uses them. Each player needs something on their feet. Shoes or boots that are too big or empty cans with a rope or cord running through the sides so the player can stand on the cans and hold onto the rope for makeshift stilts, to disguise their size. Something on their hands. Work gloves or rubber gloves because they might be injured and not as dexterous as usual and a patch over one eye because they might have vision challenges if they are escaping from someplace dark or have been partially blinded.
– Set up an obstacle course outside; or inside if that works for you. Place a board on a pair of bricks or something so that it is a few inches off the group for them to walk along. For older kids place the board over a small log or something that will make it tip as they go along it.
– Lay a broom stick across two chairs that they must crawl under.
– Set up a hopscotch for them to jump along
– Have a ball that must be thrown into a basket or through a hoop hanging from a tree.
– Ride a tricycle a set distance
– To add to the challenge make it a race against the clock. Time the ops to see if they can improv their own times or see who can do it under 5 minutes or whatever amount of time is appropriate for you obstacle course.
If you’ve enjoyed playing these games, or even if you have just appreciated reading about them, please leave a comment. More party game suggestions further below.

Other Party Games

For Ages 1 – 4:

A Colour Party
Ask guests to come dressed in your child’s favourite colour. Get balloons, streamers, wrapping paper, etc in different shades of your colour, and borrow coloured sheets or blankets from your friends to drape over the furniture

The Treasure Hunt
Set up an easy treasure hunt for this age group by wrapping small treasures in different coloured or patterned paper. Give each child a piece of wrapping paper and have them find the matching treasure.

For Ages 2 – 5:

Animal Party
Get your guests to bring their favourite animal ‘stuffy’. Decorate the party place with animal pictures, have materials on hand for guests to make an animal mask when they arrive, serve animal crackers, play animal charades. You can do this with either a farm, jungle, or zoo animal theme
Try cutting out cardboard shapes of animal food – bones for dogs, mice for cats, carrots for rabbits, etc. Your guests decide which animal they want to be, then run around as that animal looking for their cardboard ‘food’. They can trade it in for real treats later – maybe cookies cut in the same shape!

Play them some upbeat music. Experiment by putting on some songs they know alternating with snappy songs from different ethnic cultures. It is easy to over-stimulate this age group so when they start to get ‘wild’ turn the music off and move on to the next thing.

Froot Loop Jewelry
This is a great activity for when children are arriving. Have a couple of bowls of froot loops or cheerios set out and pieces of string, wool or ribbon that can easily fit through the middle of the cereal. Let children make their own necklaces, bracelets or anklets while everyone arrives.

For Ages 5 and Up:

Magazine Hunt
This is a great backup activity for a rainy day. Put a stack of picture-rich magazines in the middle of the room, and have scissors for each child. Give them a list of items, or simple pictures if they can’t read yet, and ask them to find similar pictures in the magazines and cut them out. Tailor the list to the magazines on hand. After a set time, depending on age, give ‘prizes’ to everyone – and then let them make their own or a group collage.

For Any Age

Air Balloon
Start with half as many balloons as there are children. The balloons must stay in the air and no one can hit it more than two times in a row. Keep adding balloons and see how many the group can keep in the air. With younger children start with one balloon and let them hit it as many times as they need to.

Alphabet Scavenger Hunt
Give your hunters a paper with the alphabet down one side, and tell them to find one item that begins with each letter. Give them a time limit and a designated area and set them loose.

At the end of the party have decks of cards available for the children to play Fish, crazy eights, or to make card houses with while they wait to be picked up.

Who knew glue could be so much fun without making a mess. This recipe will create a fluid substance that holds its shape. Easy to make, easy to clean.
Mix together:  2 cups white glue & 1½ cups warm water
Combine: 1/3 cup water & 1 teaspoon Borax
Drizzle into glue mixture & stir.

Limbo Contest
Remember this one? Place a broom across the backs of two chairs and put on some music from the South Seas. Don’t forget to show them how it’s done!

Magic Eco System
Have a one or two litre clear plastic bottle for each child. Fill them – or let the kids fill them – with oil, vinegar, food colouring, glitter, sequins, small toys, etc. Seal the lids with glue or duct tape and let the kids enjoy shaking and watching them.

Nickel Rummage Sale
Have guests bring three to six items that they no longer play with to contribute to the sale. Price the items between 5 and 25 cents. Give each of the guests an envelope or purse with twenty nickels in it and let them go shopping. You’ll get your nickels back when they purchase items, and the players will get to go home with different toys. Have labeled bags ready for them to take their ‘purchases’ home in.

Backwards Invitation
Write the information backwards so it will have to be read in a mirror. Great for a Spy or Detective Party!

Jigsaw Invitation
Paste a picture(s) you like to one side of a piece of card stock, put party information of the back, and cut the page into four to ten pieces . Deliver in an envelope. The receiver will have to tape it back together to get the message.

Balloon Pop Invitation
Stick the invite inside a balloon, then blow it up. They’ll have to pop the balloon to get the invitation.

Original Invitations
Write or print out the party invites on sticky labels and then attach them to interesting objects:
– plastic shovels for a beach party
– plastic fish for a pool party
– bananas for a jungle party
– boxes of animal crackers for an animal party
– packages of flower seeds for a Spring party

First, serve small amounts
Children can always help themselves to more, but party food often goes uneaten, and less on their plates at one time means less wasted.

Fruit Kebabs
Skewered strawberries, pineapple, grapes, apple or watermelon pieces go great. Tailor them to the season and your kids’ preferences. Blunt the skewers if possible

Freeze small eatables
Cake decorations, maraschino cherries, gummy bears, grapes, etc. go over great frozen inside ice cubes for the party drinks. Excellent to use if you want the guests to drink fizzy water instead of soda to keep the sugar intake down.

Ice Cream Soup
Most kids love playing with their ice cream. Give each child a bowl with a scoop of ice cream in it and have sprinkles, chocolate chips, raisins or candies available for garnishing.

Serving ice cream cones?
Stuff a miniature marshmallow down the cone to keep the end from dripping

Themed Drinks
These can easily be made by slipping designs over the straws. Just put your design on squares of paper (magnifying glass for detectives, skull and crossbones for pirates, glittered stars for fairies) and cut two slits in the paper for the straw.

Set out plates of cut veggies
Give kids a chance to ‘graze’ if they feel the need. Avoid dips for hygienic reasons unless kids get their own cups to dip in.

Balloons make the best decorations!
Make your party easy to find by having balloons visible near the street in front of your place. If it’s a tricky street to find, place balloons on the corner.
Bunches of balloons tied together work better than single balloons. Tie with bright coloured ribbon.
An uneven number looks better than an even number
Hang balloons down from the ceiling, on different lengths of fishing line or dental floss, to give the impression of suspended balloons
Tie ribbons or streamers to the tops of balloons before taping to the ceiling and let the streamers dangle down
– Blow them up the day of the party. If left too long balloons will begin to sag.

Streamers are Festive!
– Gather six to eight streamers together at one end and attach them to the centre of the party room ceiling or some other focal point. Twist them as you move towards the point that you are attaching the opposite end to. Fan streamers out from focal point. For two tone streamers, twist two contrasting colours together. For a slight variation hang beaded curtains. 

Creepy Cocktail
Freeze water in a plastic surgical glove to create a floating hand in the punch bow. Remove glove before putting in drink.

Loot Bags: – Reuse, reduce and recycle.
Party expenses can be daunting. Rather than buying new, inexpensive toys that have a short amusement span, buy clean second hand toys from garage sales and thrift stores – this is a great way to get quality items for a small budget and is good for the environment. Get a variety of gifts, wrap them and put a number on them. As guests leave, have them draw a number from a hat. They get the gift with the matching number to open when they get home

Party bags can be plain brown bags or boxes that cereal, granola bars, and other miscellaneous stuff comes in, covered or decorated ahead of time. Easy to theme. Mystery loot ‘bags’ can be made black and covered with questions marks. Cowboy loot ‘bags’ can be covered with horses and lined with ‘hay’ on the inside.
Party favours or prize suggestions: Magnets, bubbles, cookie cutters, notebooks, sea shells, marbles, sponges, pipe cleaners, fancy shoelaces, bicycle spoke decorations
Thank you’s: Have your child write out thank you notes – Thank you for coming to my party – ahead of time and insert them in the loot bags that the guests take home.

Presents Alternative
Request that guests bring a wrapped, gently-used paperback book that they have enjoyed reading and are ready to pass on. The presents are exchanged, and everyone goes home with a new book.
– The above idea can be used with dolls, cars, board games and many other items.

Common Sense:

  • If you are having a treasure hunt, play that first or the items might be found before they should be.
  • Have a balance of quiet and active games planned. Kids have a rhythm of 20 minutes or so, which is a good time to go from one type of activity to another.
  • Allow some free time for the children to just play or be with each other. Have some dress-up clothes or cars and trucks or building or art materials available for them to create with, but allow their play to come from inside them rather than structuring them full-time.
  • Make sure young guests can’t lock themselves in the bathroom.
  • Put valuables and breakables out of the party area.
  • Be sure you can reach the parents if you need to

Always have a first aid kit and emergency numbers within easy reach.

  • We are entertaining a group of 8 classmates for my daughter’s 13th birthday party. We have a boring early 1970s HOA pool, an empty clubhouse room, and some friendly neighbors in surrounding condos. What do you recommend for a great mystery backdrop to our pool party?

    • Add a bit of decor and your venue can become anything from an abandon villa on the Mediterranean to an elegant estate during the Age of Jazz / Roaring 20s or the public baths of an ancient lost civilization. It could become a set of a fantasy land like in the Narnia books, an desert oasis outpost, a haunted carnival any time in the last 100 years or a training ground for athletes or SPIES!

      Pick something you are passionate about. The more fun and excitement you put into creating it – the more fun and excitement your daughter’s guests will get out of it.

  • Hi,
    Thanks for the wonderful ideas.I’m all set to plan my 9year old daughter’s Detective Party,thanks to your games.

    • Glad to help! With a great dad and a fun theme it’s bound to be an unforgettable time. Memories are made …

  • Hi, I’m planning a party for my 11 (turning 12) year old sister. I’ve found some great ideas on this site but some of the ideas are a little bit for more younger kids. I was wondering if you had any other more “teenagererish” games and decorations. We also have a fairly large property that can be used for the games.

    • Sometimes the main difference between a child’s party and a teen party is the subject matter; change the subject matter, change the age range. Having a cluetrail is the same no matter what the age group or venue is. You need clues to prove whodunnit and it’s the ‘what they’ve done’ that gets upscaled or re-worked according to your group. Not currently having an eleven year old in the house I’m not sure of the hot topics in their world at this time.

      Are they too young for zombies or are zombies passe now? Maybe something based on their favourite book, tv show or video game. Maybe there is a particular theme in your area that would appeal to them; horses or a skatepark and like that. It’s often fun to combine a mystery party with a costume party. The participants can really get into it by dressing up as a character whether it is someone fictional or from their favorite video game characters or movie/tv show. I was surprized how much younger people love dressing up.

      My daughter started digging into the costume box at a young age and now she is sixteen she and her friends still dig into it only now they do it to make videos of themselves. Maybe your sister’s party could be based on a movie shot and an older teenager could run the video camera and play the director. In any case, ask your sister what exactly her and her friends are into to help you with this.

      Eleven year olds can be quite blase about death so I’m guess you could go with a murder mystery or a robbery. Set up a crime scene and hideouts for each of the suspects around your property. Scatter clues at the crime scenes for them to take note of and search out the solution from. Depending on your property and your group you could have clues to where clues could be found instead of setting up hideouts.

      A lot of this depends on how much time you have and how much work you want to go to. At the moment, and probably not for a while, I have nothing ready to go for teenagers but I would be glad to help you figure something out. Let me know.

  • I’m with Suzie! I would love those 6 things too! Or at least some Riddles and prints, Loads of Codes, and maybe Sneaky Puzzles? Thanks for all of this!

  • Ah. That’s coming up faster than the script will be ready. What I can do is give you a call and share some ideas with you – for free! If you’re interested send me your phone number and a good time to get in touch with you; include your time zone (I’m Mountain Standard Time). Email it to me at jrv(at)mysteryfactory.com. I’ll be happy to help you out.

  • Hi

    I would need it asap. I’m hosting a party next Saturday, March 2. Could you give me a bit of info about “Spy Hunt”, please?


  • Hi Suzie – I am currently polishing and spiffing up all of our Gumshoe Files. Do you have a party coming up or are you just wondering in general? There are four different events I am working on right now and if you have a specific date you need it by, tell me when and I’ll let you know if I can have it ready for you. It is called ‘Spy Hunt’ and will sell for $9.95 Cdn.

  • Hi

    How do I get “the Gumshoe PDFs” that include
    1) Crime Lab Cops
    2) Detective in the Dark
    3) Riddles & Prints
    4) Loads of Codes
    5) Sneaky Puzzles
    6) Clue Hunt and how much is it?

    Thank you.

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