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    I somewhat nervously present my first puzzle for your pleasure (I hope!). I think it is probably at the more straightforward end of the market, but I may be proved wrong. There is no theme to this one, unlike some others I have in preparation, but there is a bit of general knowledge required, largely geographical.

    If I may use this opportunity to introduce myself a little, my given name is Phil, I am in my mid-fifties and currently “retired”. My pseudonym is, for those unaware, the genus of the Lapwing family, which reflects both my interest in birds and my geographical location, which is a small town in the South Pennines where these birds can still be found if you know where to look. There may be a subtle solving hint in there…

    My interest in cryptic crosswords has taken a long while to reach a critical mass, as I gradually got better at the puzzles in the Independent and later the i. Last year I purchased Crossword Compiler as a birthday present to myself, and rapidly dashed off a dozen or so puzzles, which of course I proudly regarded as works of near-genius. I didn’t know where to share them at the time, until a conversation with Tilsit pointed me in the direction of 1 across, but various family events have had to take precedence until now. The delay was fortunate, as in the meantime I had read around the subject a lot more, and I soon realised what I had compiled was very anagram-heavy, including some fiendishly-clever “two-stage” examples – oops! A thorough overhaul was obviously required, and hopefully the puzzle I am posting is far more balanced and fair.

    I look forward to your feedback. There is a numbered solution posted, but I am not yet sure how best to provide parsing notes should they be required?

    Phil / Vanellus.

    • This topic was modified 1 month, 3 weeks ago by  Vanellus.


    Thanks, Vanellus, I will try your puzzle soon. You can just upload another document containing parsing notes if needs be, or handle queries in comments.



    Still a bit anagram heavy in my view and don’t really see how the clues for 5Ac and 12D lead to what turned out to be correct guesses but all the same enjoyable and somewhere between a Monday G’n and later in the week in difficulty,looking forward to seeing future efforts.



    Hi Ray,

    Many thanks for your feedback – I’m very glad (and somewhat relieved) that you enjoyed it on the whole. I perhaps need to take the Guardian for a week or two to get to grips with the levels of difficulty you are referring to. At least it is a paper that doesn’t clash with my political views, although obviously it is a bit more expensive than the i.

    Regarding the two clues you have highlighted, I don’t want to do a full spoiler just yet, although what follows may give a large hint to anyone still trying to solve it:

    5ac was a late change, as I originally was trying to link the “ice” part of the wordplay with a particular alcoholic drink, which seemed quite neat. The problem was it needed a change in pronunciation, and to be plural, and I also really could not think of a convincing way of linking this with the definition, which I rather like although I wouldn’t be surprisied if it had been used before. I thought the eventual surface was better, if by no means perfect; to confirm, it is a hidden word plus crptic definition.

    12 was a victim of the anagram reduction programme, which was a bit annoying as it was actually one of my better ones, and read quite well with what is a very awkward definition. The replacement is a bit long-winded I admit, and by the end I was thoroughly regretting having set this word – lesson learned! I would expect the estuarial river to be pretty obvious, but the other is a lot more obscure although it does feature in the name of one quite well-known historic town that sits astride it. Getting the first two letters to sit ahead of that was also a bit tricky – perhaps my way of doing it is not obvious enough. Perhaps I should have stuck with the original anagram and changed a different clue!

    Well, that is very encouraging. Thank you for taking the time to respond, Ray.

    Phil / Vanellus.




    Vanellus, I thought this was a very creditable first puzzle. You clearly have a good grip on cryptic cluing, even if there were a few niggles. I found it quite tough and almost gave up at several points, but the quality of many of the clues convinced me it was solvable. Having said that, I did give up without getting 21d or 25a. I think maybe I should have got the former, but the (surplus?) word “definitely” perhaps threw me (that’s my excuse, anyway). The latter was a problem because I didn’t know the “elite academic group”, although it seems to ring a bell now. Perhaps a little obscure, especially for an element which is then operated on? I’ll be interested to see what others make of it, though Ray had no complaint, apparently. Are you using “loan” to mean L? If so, on what basis?

    I did manage to work out the wordplay for 5a after guessing the answer from the def and some crossers, but I think the hidden part was a little clumsy. Like Ray, I also failed to parse 12d, but guessed it. I still have no idea what the “much smaller one” is, and again that’s perhaps too obscure?

    I really liked 1a. Even though I was sure it was an anagram and had the fodder, it took me ages to get and it was only then I realised the significance of “in bits”. Very clever.

    I got 9a from def, but don’t understand the wordplay.

    13a was a clever misdirection to bridge although my geography is so bad, I was doubtful of “most often” till I looked at a map just now.

    !7a I wonder what part the word “stage” plays in this clue, if any?

    24a was a brilliant def. Having recently learnt the word “ithyphallic”, I thought there might be a medical term, “ithipoea”. Looking that up, Google helpfully suggested I might mean what I suddenly realised was the right answer!

    In 2d, again I think there is a surplus “then”, which is neither part of the def nor the wordplay.

    3d Nice tight cluing

    4d ditto

    5d I had to guess this from crossers, which wasn’t easy as I know nothing about that sport and I think it’s a little unfair that such a key answer requires what for me is obscure GK. Are they particularly well-known?

    6d Excellent wordplay but not too sure about “seek [def]”

    7d Quite nice, but as the name of the food is a diminutive of the creature’s name, not a strong clue. You should avoid using wordplay elements etymologically related to the answer, although as it’s Spanish, perhaps it’s less of a sin in this case.

    8d I’m guessing the “prank” is when you put fingers up behind someone’s head in a photo? That’s not a dictionary definition, I don’t think, and not a term I was familiar with, but I got it from wordplay and crossers.

    15d Isn’t it Brigadoon? Also “section” seems to be surplus.

    16d “Until” surplus?

    19d D = doubt? Why so?

    22d I think “has” is not really right here, but the reference made me laugh when I got it.

    Despite what might seem a lot of negative comments, this really does show great promise. Try to avoid introducing words which are not part of the wordplay or def (or are clearly linking the two) into your clues just to help the surface. Make sure that your abbreviations are ones that appear in dictionaries. Some of the surfaces weren’t too meaningful but with practice you’ll hopefully get better at that.

    Well done. I look forward to seeing more and even better puzzles from you.

    Tony / Whynot



    Hi Tony,

    Many thanks for your feedback, it has been most enlightening. I have to admit a lot of things you mention, particularly the superfluous words, were things that I had agonised over and seemingly come to a less than satisfactory decision. It is interesting that you have picked up a few instances when I have subtracted letters hinted at by the use of a word – L signified by “loan” in 25, for example. Clearly there is a protocol over which words can be used, some of which are obvious, and some of which I haven’t yet grasped! I have seen a list somewhere online, which I must relocate, print out and keep to hand. Sometimes it is possible to add “first of” or “end of” into the wordplay to get round this, which does also send a hnt to the solver, I feel, but too many of these would surely begin to grate.

    I will give a full explanation now, although I am not fully up to speed with the protocol for parsing notes. I hope the following makes sense.

    1 Anag of [MAC OS I]
    5a Hidden word “hidinG IN Shower” + cryptic definiton “BERG” = large amount of ice. Alan Ginsberg was a member of the “Beat” poets of 1960’s USA.
    9 UNST (part of the Shetland archipelago) + ABLE. I wasn’t 100% sure about “virtuoso” as a CD for “ABLE”, although a thesaurus suggested it. The original clue finished “had intelligent following”, but I changed it to avoid a clash when I reworked 24.
    10 ROBS after TH(in).
    11 Anag of [CHARM IS POINT]
    13 Cryptic geographical definition.
    14 ALLER (Fr “to go”) + GEN
    17 Hidden word, puB LACK CAPicity. I felt “stage” was needed both to indicate the clue type and read better. “Parts” was really used to avoid either “pub” or “Lack” needing an s, which would not fit, rather than as an indication of the clue type. Yes, having both seems overkill, but I couldn’t find a way of only using one.
    18 Massage = rub, reversed to BUR + Y.
    19 Anag of [I CUT CAT HOUND].
    23 ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) + ORB.
    24 Anag of [I HOPE IT] + A. Defn, in case of query: A state in the area known as “the horn of Africa”.
    25 RUSSEL(-L) Group, of elite UK universities, in B-S. Loan for L, criticism noted!
    26 RUE about DeceaseD, + R. Actually, I thought this might be viewed with some dislike, so I am glad there has been no adverse comment. A late change to kill off another anagram, which involved Durer!

    2 First letters. I tried “but” before choosing “then” – if people feel it works well without either, so much the better.
    3 A TIC (jerk) after A(U)TOM.
    4 CUB IS Make.
    5 Anag of [SCARE GP BEER YANK]. Regarding the obscurity of the answer, I should add that I have no particular interest in this sport either. This team I suppose has a certain fame as being from a small industrial town in Wisconsin rather than a big city. They have actually won more League titles than any other team (it says on Wikipedia!), but last won the Superbowl in 2010, so perhaps not so much in the news over here recently.
    6 Shock = stun, climbing = NUTS + HELL. I’m not sure about “seek” either – would “find” be better?
    7 BURR(-IT)O. I’d totally overlooked the etymological link!
    8 RABBI + TEARS. Suggested by Crossword Solver rather than the dictionary – what is the best way of dealing with this? I did think about describing the prank more fully, “ruins picture” or something similar.
    12 (-H)UMBER after ALN after RE (“about first”). I wondered about using the River Aln, and seemingly went the wrong way – perhaps Alnwick and Alnmouth need to improve their tourist information output! Another Crossword Solver suggestion that looked a good idea at the time, but proved extremely limiting in its defintion.
    15 Anag of BRI(-G+H) O DOON. Regarding spelling, the Brig O’Doon is in Ayrshire, famous (or so I hoped) for its Robert Burns connections. The musical and film took the name but simplified the spelling, as well as shifting the location to Ireland.
    16 Cryptic definition. Originally no link to 19, until I noticed the latter was starting with something about “putting down the final letter.” A somewhat clumsy attempt to link things that maybe should have been left separate, or at least needed more work.
    19 Z+(-D)ITHER. Criticism noted, and probably a way round it could be found in this case.
    21 Double definition. I agree about the “definitely” – perhaps “Being wild means something to bear?” would have been better?
    22 Double defintion. The Dad’s Army reference was irresistibe! “Pole with point” possibly better for the first part?

    Again, may thanks for your time, Tony, it has been most encouraging. I should clarify by “First Attempt” I mean the first one I have got to the stage of wishing it to be publicly viewed. The basis for this was actually the tenth one of those I compiled last year, although not many of the clues have survived untouched.


    Phil / Vanellus.

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by  Vanellus.
    • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by  Vanellus. Reason: Spelling error, plus Spoiler Alert moved up the page
    • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by  Vanellus.


    Phil, I’m glad you appreciated the feedback.

    On the question of when you can use a word to represent its first letter, its only when that is a recognised abbreviation for the word. In most cases (and to satisfy some editors, always) that means it must be in a recognised dictionary. Alternatively you can use the devices you mention to indicate first, last, middle etc. letter, even say, “Beethoven’s fifth” for H. Be careful, because something like “first attempt” won’t be accepted by many as indicating A because it doesn’t literally mean that, whilst “first of attempts” does (you imagine inverted commas round the word to indicate mention rather than use.

    5a I think this works, just not very succint. “Core” is right because GINS is at the very centre of the phrase “hiding in shower”. It was twigging “beat man” that got it for me.

    9a Didn’t know Unst. I think “virtuoso” (as an adjective) just about works. Be very careful about using words from the thesaurus as synonyms, though.

    10 Technically, robbing is something you do to a person, not their possessions, but I think it’s ok, because it’s used as a synonym for ‘steal’ in slang.

    17a You’ve been caught between two stools here, wanting to use “part of” to indicate a hidden word, but needing grammatical agreement with the hiding words, so you should have looked for a different way. Don’t be tempted to insert extra words for the sake of the surface only: every word must be part of the wordplay or definition or create a meaningful link between them (leads to, gives etc, etc).

    23 I thought the def was “engage safely”, which didn’t seem very good for ABSORB, and ABS meant ‘abdominals’ a physical feature of humans. I even checked that ‘feature’ can refer to physical features other than the physiognomy. Is it meant to be “safety feature”? I don’t quite understand what the definition is now.

    26 I twigged “foremost, finally”, but think it would have been better as “foremost and finally”.

    1d Neither “then” nor “but” is good here, but “and” would be okay ([wordplay] and [def]). “Some” is dubious, imo, but “a swine” would be fine.

    4 This is an excellent example of how to indicate the first letter of a word (“beginning to”) in a deceptive way.

    5 I don’t listen to sports news, but something must have given me the idea of what it was. I started thinking of “packers” as a possible American team name, then crossers suggested “green” and Google did the rest. Because this answer runs the length of the puzzle, I think it would have been better to choose something less obscure, but others may disagree. I hate American football. If it had been, say, Queen’s Park Rangers, I’d have found no fault.

    6 I think “to find natural cover” works much better: you find the answer from the wordplay. Maybe “to get” even better?

    8 Really you should only use words/meanings which can be verified in a dictionary. However, as soon as I saw RABBIT EARS in the wordplay I realised this must be a name for the well-known prank, also known, it seems, as “bunny ears”. I see it’s in Merriam-Webster (principal American dictionary), so maybe “American prank” could have been more helpful to some?

    12 Humber is definitely fine. Aln is difficult, but not a total no-no. I think you could have done without “rational”, and overall the surface doesn’t really seem to make much sense. Best not to use Crossword Solver to get words, btw. Chamber sWord Wizard is a better bet. In my first crossword I got “BACKSTAB” from Crossword Solver and was mortified to learn later that it’s not a dictionary word. Luckily no-one seemed to notice!

    15 Oh, ok, that explains it. My ignorance.

    16 Without the “until”, it’s a beauty of a cryptic def. I think it was a mistake to link to 19, not only because you spoilt 16 with “until”, but also 19 suggests the real meaning of “tiles” so you’ve de-cryptified your brilliant CD.

    19 As explained, you can’t just use “doubt” for D, but you could have used “a bit of doubt”. You often see first letters indicated with “a bit of”, “a hint of” etc etc.

    21 “Being wild means something to bear?” would have been very good indeed, imo, perhaps even without the QM.

    22 Yes, “pole with point”, good.

    I did think this seemed too good to be your first ever. It was wise to try some out on your friends first before making your public debut. Well done.

    All the best
    Tony / Whynot

    PS Why not try my puzzle here and let me know if you enjoyed it?
    Incidentally, I notice you edited your comment a couple of times. I didn’t know that was possible. How did you do that?



    Hi Tony,

    Thanks again for your time in responding, and again it has been most helpful. I have downloaded your puzzle, and should be able to have a go tomorrow. Interesting-looking grid, I notice!

    There still seem to be a couple of issues unresolved.

    10 I hadn’t considered the technical difference, to be honest (or dishonest, in this case!). It certainly is used as a synonym in speech locally.

    23 The definition was simply “Engage”. Is this not an acceptable synonym for “absorb”? The “safety feature” was the ABS as mentioned above. I suppose it has become so commonplace on cars that it is barely mentioned these days, although it used to be touted as a maor selling-point.

    15 You mentioned in your first post that you were puzzled by the “section”, and I neglected to explain my thinking. It was an allusion to a girder with that cross-section, which I thought fitted the engineering-based wordplay, and seemed a neat way of introducing the capitalised “H” into the fodder.

    Well, I clearly must invest in a dictionary, which I will attend to before posting the next puzzle, and I wll investigate Word Wizard. I note I must have had a lapse of memeory: my refernces to “Crossword Solver” should have been to Crossword Compiler, just to clear up any possible confusion. I assume you have just followed on from my mistake in your response?

    I didn’t actually show any of my earlier attempts to anyone, in fact – so this really was the first time in effect. I did email one attmept to Tilsit, who has connections in our town through the Quiz League, but it didn’t get further than him recommending this site. I have been going through them to try and get them to a higher standard, but I did tend to include a few non-standard answers, requiring a bit of general knowledge. Possibly my fields of GK don’t always align with those of other people, which leads me to ask, to what extent are solvers going to be happy to have to Google answers? I often have to do this for literary, mythological or historical references that fall outside my fields of GK, but then I am a quizzer and quite happy to learn something. Presumably different sites or publications would have different tolerances for this?

    Finally, regarding the editing, I noticed an icon at the top right of the post. I did try and do a fourth, to add the further point abot clue 15 that I’d missed, but the icon was no longer there, so I presume you only get three shots.

    Thanks again for your encouragement,

    Phil / Vanellus

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by  Vanellus.



    I look forward to hearing your complaints feedback about my puzzle. Seriously, it should be ok, as it dates to a period before “Your Puzzles” existed on this site and amateur efforts had the benefit of a full edit from the site’s esteemed editor Hamish / Soup. The grid is a bit weird (in a good way, hopefully) due to the puzzle’s history, which is narrated in comments. Do please try it before you go there, though!

    Turning back to yours:

    23. “Engage” is fine, in the sense of “engage the attention”. I realise now the main problem with that clue is there’s a typo: “safely” for “safety”. That’s a shame, and probably something a test-solver would have picked up. If you have a friend or relative who is a solver, it’s always best to give them a new puzzle to “road-test”. Many a wrinkle will be ironed out by a test solve and it’s something all professionals have done before submitting them (by other setters: the problem with using friends and relatives is they may not be sufficiently critical, but it’s better than nothing. Certainly a typo like that would have been noticed).

    15. Yes, H-section is helpful for the surface, but as far as I can see plays no part in the wordplay. It’s H itself that needs to replace “last of piling” in the anagram, not a section of it. Unless I’m missing something, that’s another one of those naughty surplus words, only there to improve the surface. I think “Outlaw reconstruction of” might be better than “Outlaw plan to rebuild”, btw.

    Crossword Compiler? Ah! I thought you meant Crossword Solver, which I used to use when I got stuck solving before I discovered Word Wizard*. Something it’s worth thinking about when devising clues is what I refer to by the maxim “Hard word, easy clue; easy word, hard clue”. You want your solvers to finish your puzzle (eventually), so be careful about combining obscure vocabulary with complicated wordplay as in this instance. ALN would be fine as the answer to an easy clue like “Gangster heads North to river (3)” (actually some wouldn’t like the “to” here), but as “another” (probably river, possibly without “source”?) in rather complex wordplay, it’s rather too tricky, perhaps.

    Btw, in 6d, on consideration, I think “seek” does work — as an instruction to the solver: “Seek a word meaning ‘natural cover'”.

    Interesting question about use of Google and other resources. Some solvers want to be able to do it all from what’s in their head, and some won’t even bother finishing a puzzle that needs research. Personally, like you, I enjoy finding out about people, places, concepts I didn’t know (much) about before. I’ve recently started doing the Times Literary Supplement Crossword, and I would get nowhere with that without Google! It’s hard to get “a three-letter river” from Google, though, but I have a little book called Newnes Pocket Crossword Dictionary which lists Aln under that precise category, so maybe I should have got it. There’s also the comprehensive Bradford’s Crossword Solver’s Dictionary which has it, too.

    Thanks for the tip about the edit icon. It may in fact be limited by time rather than number of attempts.

    All the best
    Tony / Whynot

    * Incidentally, after writing my last comment mentioning the word BACKSTAB which I got from Crossword Solver, I found that although most dictionaries only have BACKSTABBING, Collins (the goto dictionary for many solvers/compilers) has BACKSTAB as a verb in its own right, so I don’t feel so bad about it now, even though personally I would say that “backstabbing (n.)” is derived from “stab in the back” and “to backstab” is an ugly back formation (no pun intended). The clue was “Betray clue to bats, perhaps? (8)”

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by  Whynot. Reason: Typo
    • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by  Whynot. Reason: More typos

    Jack Aubrey

    Thank you Vanellus. Life gets in the way, so only just got round to trying this. I avoided solution and spoiler responses until I had worked through it. A very satisfying solve, well done! I won’t go over the point about extra words in the clues which compromise the word play, but experienced that, although it was never a game-stopper.

    5A Re “Gin”, do we need cryptic protocols for “looks like”? We have plenty for “sounds like” and homophones are really shaky given the range of UK accents – Hamish and I have already exchanged emails about that. AnyWay, I enjoyed this and (forgive the pun) gave a “Howl” when the penny dropped.

    9A I have no problem with the first part (for what it’s worth the UK’s best source of talc – another useful 4 letter group). See comments on 5 D. Not sure about “maestro”. Isn’t “can” closer?

    13A I missed the clever material in the clue and entered “West” because I lazily read “to” as “with”having been subjected to too mahy bridge referencing clues in my time on Earth.

    18A A great piece of brevity – soul of wit.

    23A Not convinced about “engage” as a definition.

    24A Once grasped, the definition was great fun.

    25A I had no GK problems here and loved the idea of them “mired in BS”.

    5D I have zero interest in tne sport but had no problem remembering the team’s name. “Unreasonably obscure = what I don’t know”. Ignore such complaints.

    8D I’m not sure about “Prank”. There are at least two sexual meanings for the answer, one of which seems coercive on the female (or equivalent) partner which I don’t think anyone here would endorse.

    12D As a regular commuter on the East Coast mainline, I had no trouble with the beautiful bay you referenced. More of us should visit.

    15D I stand with you, my claymore ready, to challenge any who speaks of tne ghastly bastardisation of “Brigadoon”. Some years ago, I went to a Burns Supper at which the Tam tale was tellt f’ae Mrs Tam’s point of view.She concluded, “and whit hae ye done tae my feckin


    Jack Aubrey

    Something cut “horse” off the of my post. Apologies.



    *** HERE BE SPOILERS ***

    “Unreasonably obscure = what I don’t know”. Haha! How true! On the other hand I felt no inclination to learn any more about the Green Bay Packers than that they were the answer to the clue.

    By contrast, it was most engaging/absorbing finding out what you were talking about concerning rabbit ears. Urban Dictionary enlightened me, but I don’t think we should get too many answer-words from there. I was reminded of the old joke, set up by the line: “How does a woman hold her liquor?”*

    Further to rabbit ears, the Playboy Club’s “Bunny Girls” (used to?) wear them — and bobtails. Also Ariana Grande, the American singer whose concert got bombed in Manchester. There must be something sexy about them, but I’m not sure I see what, unless you’re a Furry (see Urban Dictionary).

    Btw, I humbly apologise to the denizens of Brig o’ Doon. You can put your claymores down now. Thanks…

    Tony / Whynot

    * When you tell this to crossword puzzlers you have to add “we hear”, or they get annoyed there was no indicator.

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by  Whynot. Reason: Spoiler alert


    Phil, reviewing, I noticed I failed to address your remark about rob. I’ve just looked in Chambers, which has “to take as plunder, to carry off”, so I don’t think there’s anything wrong with “take” in 10 at all. Apologies. Perhaps I was thinking of legal terminology, where “robbery” is a crime against the person (of unlawfully dispossesing them by force or threat of force: stealing by stealth, say, is simoly “theft”). In other words, you rob the person, not the stuff. The first meanings in Chambers accord with person-as-object, too. I’ve always thought of such as “he robbed my bike” as idiomatic.


    Jack Aubrey

    Tony, very wise of you to want to appease the poetic denizens (of Alloway Kirk btw; the Brig is a Brig, not a toun)! The bard describes them as a “hellish legion” led by Auld Nick hissel’ in the form of a “towzie tyke”. “Cutty Sark” plays a crucial role too…[That’s enough Burns for one morning. Ed]



    Hi Jack,

    Many thanks for taking the time to try the puzzle and offer feedback. I am glad you found it enjoyable and that the geographical elements of the GK were to your taste. I spent a week in Alnmouth about twenty years ago when our son was young, which I think was the same year as we also visited Largs and Ayr and stood upon the aforementioned Brig. I have been lucky enough to travel extensively around Britain in pursuit of various hobbies, which perhaps tends to push such ideas to the front of my mind when looking for inspiration.

    Regarding 5D, I did briefly think about bringing “Howl” into a clue with “Beat man”, but didn’t pursue it because I though it relied on too much GK. I’m sure there must be a great clue in there somewhere, however.

    More worryingly, 8 has me blushing! I now realise I actually was aware of other meanings for “rabbit ears”, but from the moment Crossword Compiler suggested it, I never had anything in mind other than the photograph-sabotaging prank. Whilst I (obviously) have no objection to a bit of innuendo, I certainly would not want to offend anybody. Possibly something to be aware of in future!

    Again, many thanks for your encouragement,


    Phil / Vanellus

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by  Vanellus. Reason: Typo
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