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I know it's not really all that exciting, but things like eating will be very prominent in the cultures and show up a lot in my story...

In my world I want my race to have at least two different types of eating utensils, like chopsticks and the knife and fork. Other than with these, most humans will either eat with a spoon or with their hands (Or with other pieces of food like bread).

The spoon seems to be quite universal, but there doesn't seem to be any tools to eat that wouldn't feel distinctly human, if that makes sense.

I've thought about clamshell-like tongs, but they seem a bit unwieldy.

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    $\begingroup$ Historically, spoons (and of course knives) are ancient. Chopsticks and forks are very very much more recent than spoons. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 1 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ Utensils come in two flavors - universal and customized. Either the utensil will be suited to eating as many kinds of food as possible, or it will be a niche utensil for eating one type of food. $\endgroup$ – Halfthawed Apr 1 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ Alternative to what? The breadth of human eating utensils is so much more than chopsticks and the knife and fork; every delicacy has had a special utensil devised, including your clamshell tongs (in a number of variations – salad servers, snail tongs, etc). You will have to establish how this species is so unlike homo sapiens that they require utensils without parallel to our own. $\endgroup$ – rek Apr 1 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ Please don't forget the spork, one of the most useful utensils that I've ever found. $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker Apr 2 at 2:05
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    $\begingroup$ This is actually an excellent question. $\endgroup$ – RBarryYoung Apr 2 at 20:37

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Alternative Tools

The question leaves many questions to be answered. Is the species different from today’s humans? Is the food (consistency and type) similar to common food items today? Which items? That said, assuming the setup parallels our experience, I can envision repurposing existing tools as well as provide new contraptions; some simple, some more complex.

3-prong claps

Similar to chopsticks, this contraption can stab or grab food.

To operate:

  1. Push one end to expand the prongs at the other end
  2. Hover over food
  3. Release end to contract the prongs

Suction Grab

Similar to a lotion pump, or putting a straw in liquid and vacuum sealing. This contraption can suck up squishy food like mashed potatoes.

To operate:

  1. Squeeze cylindrical device
  2. Place one end in grits, mashed potatoes, etc
  3. Unsqueeze device to suction grab
  4. Either squeeze to release, or have a push function at opposite end to press food out

Conveyor

This device acts like a treadmill for food. At one end your pile of food is placed in a feeder (like dirt feeder for mining gold). It feeds onto a hand-cranked belt that leads right to your mouth.

No-utensil

Bareback the eating process and go all hands-on.

Fingercaps

In the same genre to using hands, these thimble-like objects can be placed on three fingers. Their purpose is to be more hygienic, but also offer some shaping to increase grip/friction when picking up food. Allowing you to keep your hands free and offer something washable. Maybe it’s done one-handed, maybe you have 6 for two-handed work.

Spade

Similar to a pie-knife. This flat spatula-like object acts as a temporary table-to-mouth plate.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding vol7ron. Please take the tour and when you have some free time read-up in the help center about how we work. Great first post, enjoy the site. $\endgroup$ – Tantalus' touch. Apr 2 at 1:08
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    $\begingroup$ There are several good things here, but I love the food-spade most of all. It's low tech, makes perfect sense, and is just the right distance away from what I think of as normal. $\endgroup$ – Grollo Apr 2 at 9:08
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    $\begingroup$ You forgot the 'FaceSplat' method - open mouth, bury head in food, start chewing. $\endgroup$ – Darren Bartrup-Cook Apr 2 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ Some of these could only evolve in a culture with materials like rubber to build the suction grab. Or as a refinement over an earlier plunger-based sucker. So either this replaced the spoon for some cultural / historical reason, or certain kinds of soft food only became popular after tech existed. Or people slurped out of bowls until this was invented. Lots of possible explanations, but I feel like it wouldn't be great without an explanation of why something complex is used instead of spoons $\endgroup$ – Peter Cordes Apr 3 at 6:39
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    $\begingroup$ The fingercaps are great! I love the idea of a device that makes it easier to eat with your hands (keeping the hands clean) rather than serving as a tool. It feels distinctly different from what human cultures use, but still eminently practical (particularly if you have only 3 fingers on your hand). It does place some restrictions on how food can be prepared (nothing too soft), but then so do chopsticks (nothing both big and hard to cut). And some cultures could attach small knife blades, points, etc directly to the fingercaps, allowing for cultural variation with the same basic premise. $\endgroup$ – Charles Staats Apr 3 at 15:14
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Little seesaw for launching food into the air.

This would be a little device with a lever over a fulcrum. You would load food in the far end then bang the near end, launching it into the air towards the face. The eater catches it in the mouth. There may be a couple of possible designs. I feel like I have seen popcorn catapults at the Renaissance fair...

But the caught food! At some Japanese restaurants the chefs will toss food into your mouth. Plus some dogs are good at catching food out of the air. I could not find a youtube of anyone who had built and used such a device for launching and mouth-catching morsels. If you do please post video. Maybe video before and after practice.

Your aliens are descended from hunters who grabbed live food out of the air. Now they eat dead food which is a lot less satisfying. Getting that food up and flying makes it seem like food!

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    $\begingroup$ The real fun would be to use those machines on the others at the table. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Apr 1 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Alexander - yes! It would make eating so much more social, because you would be feeding your friends! $\endgroup$ – Willk Apr 1 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ moms in this world: "keep playing with your food!" $\endgroup$ – jk. Apr 2 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ Do they use a utensil to load the food onto the catapult? $\endgroup$ – Mike S Apr 2 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ This might suit a race that evolved from frog-like ancestors, with a see-movement-catch-eat reflex. $\endgroup$ – Criggie Apr 3 at 3:15
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An amusing question. I don't have any suggestions that I think are very good, but let me suggest some angles of attack.

The trick is to come up with something that would actually be a practical eating utensil, but that no one in the world uses in real life. (Or at least, that is uncommon enough that most readers would never have heard of it.)

I've read lot of stories that try to create an alternative society, and where I find myself thinking, "Oh come on, that is so wildly impractical, does NO ONE in this society think to try a better way?" Like you can write in a book that, say, the people in your society eat by handing meat from hooks in the ceiling, and then they run across the room and jump up to try to pull the food with their teeth, but ... I'd find that hard to believe.

Seems to me that there are basically five kinds of eating utensils people use:

  1. Things to pick up food by stabbing it. Like modern Americans and Europeans use forks. In the Middle Ages, people would stab food with a knife to pick it up and carry it to their mouths.

  2. Spoons and similar devices to scoop up food. Especially necessary for liquids as of course you can't pick liquids up with a stabbing item.

  3. Grasping items, like chop sticks.

  4. Cutting tools, like knives.

  5. Breaking tools, like nutcrackers.

I think that basically covers the things that need to be done to eat. So what are other tools that could accomplish the same purpose?

Thoughts that occur to me:

Instead of breaking nuts crab legs with a plier-like device, you could smash them with a hammer.

To pick up food, use a scoop. Not much different from a spoon, but you could describe it to look much different.

Hey, here's an idea: How about a small mace? I mean, a heavy object maybe 6" long with spikes on the end? You could use it to hit nuts or shells to break them, and you could bang it against a largish piece of food so that the spikes stuck in it, and you could then pick up the food to put it in your mouth.

Tongs. People use large tongs to serve salad, etc, but you could have smaller tongs to pick up food and take it to your mouth.

A simple skewer, i.e. a long, skinny nail. Stick it into the food and pick it up.

Maybe instead of drinking from a cup, you could use a sponge. Dip the sponge in a bowl with the drink, then tilt your head back, hold the sponge over your mouth, and squeeze. I suspect this would be much inferior to a cup but maybe there's a way to make it more practical.

Small plates that fold in the middle -- either a hinge or made of a flexible material. Then you put some food on the plate, lift it up to your mouth, and pour it in. Seems very crude to me, but maybe that's just because it's so outlandish.

There's also the whole category of "edible utensils". Like a taco shell is edible, but it's also a handy device for holding all the ingredients that make up the taco. In the middle ages people ate from "trenchers" -- a small load of bread, cut open in the middle, and food stuffed in. Kind of an early sandwich.

This is a fun game. I like the question. Try to think of ways to solve a problem that are as different as those used by our society as you can think of, while still being practical enough to be plausible.

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    $\begingroup$ there's a lot of filler in this answer, but I like the sponge, flexible plate and edible utensils ideas. I imagine putting the sponge into my mouth could be less messy than squeezing. As a variation on the flexible plate, that reminds me of an entertaining method of drinking wine I encountered in Catalonia: demaisonselections.com/images/photos/porron_chris_3_06.gif $\endgroup$ – craq Apr 2 at 0:48
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    $\begingroup$ BTW, we do use skewers to eat... just not often; they tend to be specialty devices somewhat like crab-leg crackers. Sponges, also, have been used to deliver liquids to people that couldn't use their hands. (Actually, given the right anatomy, sponges might be highly practical...) $\endgroup$ – Matthew Apr 2 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ Instead of breaking nuts crab legs with a plier-like device, you could smash them with a hammer. See Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Vogons $\endgroup$ – Astrolamb Apr 2 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ Seems to me that there are basically three kinds of eating utensils people use ... 5. Hmmm. $\endgroup$ – DrSheldon Apr 2 at 16:47
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    $\begingroup$ @DrSheldon There are 3 kinds of people in the world: Those who can count, and those who can't. :-) $\endgroup$ – Jay Apr 5 at 3:43
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Your question made me think of the Anti-Matter Chopsticks in the Red Dwarf episode "Legion" http://reddwarf.fandom.com/wiki/Anti-Matter_Chopsticks .

enter image description here

It might give you inspiration for the purpose of a new kind of utensil. Not to make it easier to eat a certain food or dish but to make it harder. This way civilized, educated people can distinguish themselves from the unwashed masses.

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    $\begingroup$ The culinary equivalent of silk gowns and long fingernails. I don't need to work, so I can afford to be ridiculously impractical? I like it. (I have heard of a prospective mother-in-law serving the young lady her son brought home a pear on a plate with a knife and fork, to see whether she could manage it.) $\endgroup$ – TRiG Apr 2 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ Since when did causes have to make sense? This is a good way to explain away anything that seems odd/weird, or alien because that's exactly what it is. +1 $\endgroup$ – Criggie Apr 3 at 3:18
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    $\begingroup$ I opened this question from HNQ's just to find this answer! $\endgroup$ – Craig H Apr 3 at 10:26
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    $\begingroup$ Let's also not forget the other implements mentioned in that scene, including Jovian booglehoops and the "often lethal" Mercurian boomerang spoon. $\endgroup$ – cjs Apr 3 at 11:59
  • $\begingroup$ My thoughts exactly. thanks for the RD link - "Mercurian boomerang spoon" $\endgroup$ – Commander Nirvanah Crane May 10 at 5:58
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You need to ask yourself some questions first

How did your species develop, and what do its manipulation and eating organs look like?

Once you answer these, you can start looking at what tools might make it easier for this species to eat, which is the whole point of utensils. We have hands with fingers and a mouth that we need to lift food and drinks to. We developed as bipeds hunters who were stabbing things from the beginning (forks/chopsticks) and lifting liquids to our mouths (cupped hands->spoons).

Is your species an aquatic filter feeder? Congratulations; everything might be a dense soup for them that they just pour in. Does your species eat like a boa constrictor? Congratulations; their utensils might be ropes or bands that crush their food into an edible mass and pull it in.

If they're biped hunters, you might have to stretch things a little to get away from utensils that are basically forks and spoons.

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Here is some inspiration from the real world.

Where I come from, crabs are a big deal in cuisine. We cook them whole and serve them that way.

You can't eat the shell, though, so you need a way to access the soft parts inside. We have a special utensil for that. Check the picture below:

A crab-based dish from a tropical place, with the utensils used to open the crabs highlighted

The etiquette for the usage of these special utensils is to never use them close to someone who is allergic to crustaceans, because crab shell pieces tend to fly and spread everywhere like shrapnel. Other than that just knock yourself out!

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    $\begingroup$ Long utensils for extracting the bone marrow are also a thing. Long thin scoops. $\endgroup$ – Gustavo Apr 1 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ Hmmm... I eat crab all the time, and I can not think of any way this is not a horrible and utterly messy idea... that said, I'm totally doing this next time we get crabs. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Apr 2 at 22:09
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    $\begingroup$ Are crab hammers a thing? $\endgroup$ – Christopher Hostage Apr 3 at 18:57
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    $\begingroup$ @ChristopherHostage we call these crab sticks, or crab clubs. $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Apr 3 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ ...not that this has any bearing on your anwer. but ummm... FOR SCIENCE! $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Apr 5 at 21:21
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Scissorspoon

Basically scissors with a small spoon like cavity on the side on which food would be stored (or the scissor is double and the food remains in the middle/inside)

An alternative thing based on the ratchet principle, is some kind of big tube that cuts and "spoons" the piece of food upwards with every slamming, and you eat from it like a push pop. It would be messy and loud though. Alternatively, some kind of piping bag (any flexible not so porous/easy to clean surface and leather or something thermic on the outside) so everyone just drop some in their mouths. The tips could be interchangeable although the food should be small even with the biggest acceptable tip

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The eating machine as seen in Chaplin's movie.

enter image description here

There are many utensils there. They appear more than alternative, but I do not know their names.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_Times_(film)

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It would be difficult to invent a new utensil that doesn't resemble the ones that we already have.

All eating utensils can be categorized into two types - the ones that we put in our mouth and the ones that we don't. While the latter can indeed be very much customized, the former are very limited in their design. We already have utensils which fall into basic geometric shapes - flat and round (or near-round): spoons, forks, chopsticks, drinking straws and knives (though eating from a knife is a poor table manners).

You mentioned tongs, and rightfully concluded that they would be "a bit unwieldy". Indeed, putting tongs in one's mouth is not going to be very comfortable. However, a smaller device called "pincer chopsticks" already exists, and can potentially serve your purpose. Another existing hybrid is "spork", which is popular among backpackers.

For the utensils that we don't put in our mouth, using them only to part or serve food, we have a full creative freedom.

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    $\begingroup$ "eating from a knife is a poor table manners"... in some cultures. Someone from a culture without forks might feel different. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Apr 1 at 17:05
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Chusher

An expensive spoon like utensil (often made of silver or gold) with a lid that crushes its contents, letting the released liquid flow but retaining the solids.

Some rare and elusive delicacies (such as very small animals, fish, beetles) may be eaten raw, but epicures insist on their extreme freshness.

So, the item is placed in the crusher and put in the mouth. The crusher crushes its contents releasing the juices, blood or whatever. Taking the crusher out of the mouth removes the unwanted solid bits (eye, legs, etc.) which are then disposed in an elaborately decorated and expensive bowl designed for the purpose.

Y-Straw

A straw that has one mouth end but two other ends that dip into separate glasses.

The glasses contain liquids that reacts with each other when mixed. The desired effect (flavour, magic, regeneration, etc.) is a by-product of the mixing and stops once the liquids are fully combined.

The Y-Straw ensures the mixing happens in the mouth for maximum effect. Once the noisy fizzing/bubbling/smoking/face twisting mixing stops and the effect is absorbed; the resulting waste gas is exhaled with much satisfaction, like cigarette smoke.

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Straw + air pressure

Lots of good suggestions already, but this one is still missing:

If you have a liquid, you can stick a straw into it, close the upper end with your finger (or other bodypart as alien) and let air pressure keep the liquid inside the straw until you hold it over your mouth and remove the finger. The liquid then flows out of the straw into your mouth.

With rigid solid foods this would not work well, but smaller pieces of solid but somewhat soft/compressable material can be picked up by pressing the straw against them (they get pushed in a bit, displacing air) and then following the above procedure. Try it with a bit of meat or boiled vegetable - if you seal the upper end of the straw, air pressure will allow you to lift a bit of solid food that way.

Not the most efficient way to eat, but fun (for human children, at least), slightly educational (I imagine children eating this way to have an easier time learning about the effects of air pressure) and, most importantly here, foreign.

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Portable Kinetic Field Devices

The hard part is not coming up with something new, but coming up with something new and practical. Eating is a common activity; so, practicality is an important factor in determining how believable adoption of the utensils are.

Since you are talking about multiple races, I'm assuming this is a scifi/fantasy setting; so, you may want to consider how technology/magic could make eating more convenient than we can do in our world. While real world utensils are great at getting food into our mouths, they come with the shortcomings of needing regular cleaning and risking the spread of disease.

Using technology/magic, your non-humans could cut and manipulate food without touching it. This makes sanitation and cleanup a non-issue. This would also make for an interesting plot point where your non-humans would have a hard time accepting human eating customs that involve "touching" our food.

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The first thing to do is consider what eating utensils already exist, and why. As a general rule, they are to make it easier, safer, cleaner or more hygienic to eat:

  • Chopsticks are essentially extended fingers, for plucking up food
  • Spoons, bowls and cups are all analogous to scooping something up in your palm
  • Knives are for cutting things, in place of tearing or biting
  • Breads and napkins are sometimes used to grasp things, rather than getting fingers dirty / sticky
  • Nutcracker and Lobster Crackers make it easier / more elegant to apply sufficient force to break through the shell (with Seafood Picks to extract the meat)
  • Fish Tongs / Fish Bone Pliers, for gripping and removing fish-bones

Next, you need to decide roughly what your people typically eat - national dishes, et cetera - and how they ate it before they had cutlery. Because, that's what the cutlery will resemble most.

For example, if your culture is highly carnivorous, and used to just pick up a roasted leg of meat and chomp away: A simple napkin, washed between meals, wrapped around the bone is the simplest solution. However, a still-piping-hot joint could burn you through it, and seasoning/sauces would be messy - so, perhaps they would make use of a bone holder

If they are used to holding and grasping things like apples, then they might develop a pair of short tongs to replicate a one handed grip - which would then lead to future foods being developed as balls of about the same size.
enter image description here

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If you accept suggestions for drinking - including liquid meals like soups or protein shakes - then I'd suggest some kind of balloon or pouch or bladder. They used to be made of animal skins and used for wine until a few centuries ago. Last century more high tech versions were developed for astronauts (although it seems like they no longer eat directly from the pouch).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wineskin

https://www.discovermagazine.com/the-sciences/the-care-and-feeding-of-astronauts

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Seems to me that the food itself determines what the utensils will be and what your feeding organism looks like. Vegetable matter - maybe something to assist with grinding. Meat - cutting, slicing, dicing. You have lots of good suggestions here from other contributors.

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Big hammer

Its used to pacify food before consumption. Longpork some types of food really don't like, when you eat it. It doesn't like it so much, so it even can strike back! On the same time, this food preserves much better, if it is still living.

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You might take inspiration from some of the rarer (or odder) utensils people have come up with, they will both have a realistic-ish feel and an exotic-ish one.

One example - eating thorns. Very rare nowadays, but common during medieval europe among other places. Its kinda like a fork with only one tine, or an awl, and can be a simple pointed utensil or can have a loop, curve or zigzag in the middle for better gripping. The proper way to arrange one's fingers around the zigzag for fine control and manners would be taught to kids, so protagonists can struggle a little or be quite apt as you wish.

Another example, also from medival times - it was quite common to cut pieces of food then scoop them up to eat with the flat of one's knife. Again, rare usage nowadays and probably a bit counterintuitive but it might feel both realistic and unusual to readers.

Perhaps a smooth round rod can be used to mix or stir instead of a spoon, or spread preserves instead of a knife. (maybe look up spurtle)

Or something more complex, like a mini molinillo, a twirl whisk, or a wooden churner used to mix one's drink instead of a spoon... there are a lot of interesting designs if you look, and once you have a design idea you can build up culture and custom and even biology around it to make it more exotic or more familiar

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