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It May Help You on Your Quest

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Jack: the jar of dirt going to help?
Tia Dalma: If you don't want it, give it back.
Jack: [clutches it tightly] No!
Tia Dalma: Then it helps.

A character is handed (or idly picks up, or discovers in their possession) a seemingly useless item of junk. This can happen fairly early in the story — in The Hero's Journey, it's one of the first steps.

The item in question later becomes important to resolving some major or minor obstacle moving the characters forward. Or the character thinks it will, anyway. Or the character, if handed it, cherishes it as a gift. (Or the character is a pack rat.)

Items of this sort are a certain form of Chekhov's Gun.

Especially common in Adventure Games from the '90s, from whence the name was derived.

A Plot Tailored to the Party involving items instead of personality or skillset typically revolves around these.

This is similar to when a character learns a seemingly useless skill or fact that will be needed later on, see: Someday This Will Come in Handy. If an item is elevated to Plot Coupon status, it is because You Will Know What to Do.

Popular items include paperclips and the like, as well as jewelry, perhaps because of its nominal resale value. It could be magic beans, a piece of moldy cheese, etc. If an item is conspicuously clickable, compare Notice This. See also Orphan's Plot Trinket.

If your entire starting kit consists of these items, you may be asked to defeat evil With This Herring.

Common enough that subversions are notable when the item will in fact turn out to be useless junk. Or immediately useful.

A savvy character may fob off an otherwise useless Clingy MacGuffin (or just get the hero to take out the trash) by uttering the words "Take this... it may help you on your quest."

On the other end, it may lead them to grab everything they can so as to be ready for every conceivable challenge or obstacle.

An unusual variant is when the giving character says, "You'll need this more than I do." — common amongst elders who have advanced beyond the need for an item. Compare Grail in the Garbage. Not to be confused with Shop Fodder, which is often only valuable in large quantities. If the item turns out to have sentimental value, it is a Memento MacGuffin.

When the character's whole objective is to obtain or deliver an item, it is a Plot Coupon.

See also Plot Coupon That Does Something, Starter Equipment, Sword of Plot Advancement, Useful Book.

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Definitely InuYasha. The main character's battle-happy brother Sesshomaru receives a sword that resurrects people. He begrudgingly carries it around and eventually resurrects Rin as a test to see if the sword works. The sword has a catch: it can only resurrect a person once so it can't save the people Sesshoumaru actually wants to save. Rin and Kohaku have died once before so he can't save them and Kagura's death dissolves her body, so he can't save her either. It turns out that he needed Tenseiga and the lessons Tenseiga forced him to learn to be able to finally achieve his desire (a combat sword of his very own that could match his vast power, the idea being that only a compassionate heart should wield great power otherwise that power would be grossly misused).
  • In the penultimate episode of Mazinkaiser Boss gives Kouji a resistance bar. Kouji uses it immediately to smack an Iron Mask Soldier. Then in the final episode, Mazinkaiser's control stick breaks and Kouji uses the bar to replace the broken part, letting him pilot Mazinkaiser again.
  • In Pokémon Adventures, the Daycare Couple gives Gold a King's Rock, which comes handy later in evolving his Poliwhirl. Lance also gives his Togepi a Shiny Stone in HGSS arc. It lets it double-evolve into Togekiss once Gold forges a strong bond with it.
  • SD Gundam Force, The Dai-Shogun of Perfect Virtue gives Bakunetsumaru a gift which he instructs to keep with him at all times- a toothpick. ("A Musha Gundam has teeth?). The toothpick itself isn't used for anything, but it contains a bit of the Dai-Shogun's energy, which is used to turn the petrifying Bagu Bagu in life-restoring White Bagu Bagu along with Fenn's feather.
  • Slayers
    • The Orihalcon Statue in the first arc (both novels, anime, and manga), which holds a powerful, magic-enhancing stone fragment. Lina happened to stumble across it on a treasure hunt, but the priest Rezo seeks it to cure his blind eyes. The end result is the resurrection of Shabranigdo, a demonic being that was split into pieces, and Lina and company have to defeat him.
    • Later on in the novels, there's the Blast Sword. Because he loses the Sword of Light for good in this version, Gourry needs a new one. He and Lina find a rusty old sword, and during the battle with Dynast Grausherra, it reveals itself as the Blast Sword, which is even more capable of fighting demonic beings than the Sword of Light.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! Kaiba gives Yugi his copy of Fiend's Sanctuary before the Final Battle with Marik in Battle City, knowing it's an effective weapon against the Winged Dragon of Ra but leaves it up to him to figure out how to use it; fortunately, he does.
  • An example occurs in the two-part episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX where Judai duels Asuka (who is Brainwashed and Crazy due to the Society of Light). Both Fubuki and Manjyome give him cards before the duel starts, thinking that they might help him get through to her. When he first uses them, however, neither works at all. However, he is later able to use both to bypass Asuka's lockdown strategy and summon a monster that lets him destroy the White Veil card (a vital factor in the cult's hold over her) so the two cards do end up being useful... Just not in the way they were originally intended.

    Comic Books 
  • In Asterix in Britain, before setting out on the journey to Britain, Asterix takes some herbs from the Druid Getafix who says "Take some if you like." These herbs are eventually found out to be tea, which works as a Magic Feather for the British village they were out to save in their battle with the Romans.
  • Not long after Final Crisis, it's revealed that Darkseid cloned Batman several times. When the clones went crazy, they were all killed, except for one, just in the off chance that Darkseid ever needed a spare Batman corpse. Which he later used to fool the world into thinking Batman was dead.
  • In Star Wars: Legacy, Cade Skywalker is handed R2-D2. He is not impressed.

    Fairy Tales 
  • In Bargaglina and the Three Singing Apples, a boy is cursed to never grow taller until he finds the titular character. The boy is given a magic stone, a magic comb, and a bag of fog by the people he meets on his journey, who all tell him that these objects may help him. When he steals the singing apple containing Bargaglina, the witch that guards the singing apples magically summons armies of horsemen to chase after him. He remembers the objects he was given and uses them to escape. The stone turns into a mountain, which stops the first army, the comb turns into a giant mirror which scares away the second army, and the bag of fogs floods the entire area in fog so the last army cannot find him.
  • In Mercer Mayer's version of East of the Sun and West of the Moon, the heroine meets a Plant Person of the forest, a Giant Fish of the ocean, and the North Wind, each of whom gives them a gift which she needs to use in order to defeat the Troll Princess: a bow and arrow from the king of the forest, a fish scale, and a tinderbox. In the last case, she needs to free her prince from a block of ice. The tinderbox burns the drapes, melting the ice, which douses the flames.
  • The beans from Jack and the Beanstalk. He traded a cow for them, though.
  • Found in a Norwegian folktale about a princess who always had to have the last word. Three brothers are off to try their hand at winning the princess; the youngest is mocked for carrying around every piece of junk he finds. Youngest brother manages to stun the princess into silence by using the junk as props ([brother holds out goat horn] "I've never seen the like!" [brother gets out other goat horn] "Here you see the like, Princess.") and they live happily ever after.

    Fan Works 
  • From Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: Dumbledore with great ceremony gives Harry... his father's rock and tells him to keep it with him at all times. It's just a big rock which is not special in any way. The fact that it actually does come in useful, and the circumstances where it does, are seen as so suspicious in-universe that it completely changes the state of political alliances by bringing the Malfoys in under Harry's personal banner. It later turns out that there was a prophecy about the rock, and that while Dumbledore hadn't known why it was important, he had known that it would be useful in some way.
  • Mario and Sonic: Heroes Unite!
    • Before storming Bowser's Castle, Mario receives an Item Bag. His comeback was from the last item in said Item Bag.
    • Sonic receives a Power Star just before going back to his world. That same Power Star is used to power the Star Fighter the heroes use as transportation.
  • OSMU: Fanfiction Friction: The Morrigan, who resides deep in the forest on the island of Hy-Brasil, predicts Omar's future and encourages him to take a small sparkly pink rock, stating that it may be of help to him in the future. It turns out to be very helpful indeed when Orla and Oswald get lost in the forest after the latter rescues the former, as the rocks summons the two agents to him and Opal just before the island disappears.
  • This Bites!: Forewarned of their two-year separation, Merry used her raincoat to create a duffel bag for Luffy and several smaller pouches for other members of the crew with the same Hammerspace access that the original garment had. The trope comes into play in Chapter 71 when they find out that Ace was still captured and is slated to be executed; while the crew can't join Luffy in saving him, all of them (except Su, who doesn't have anything she could give) donate an item or items to Luffy's bag to help with his mission to save Ace. They're revealed one by one over the next eight chapters:
    • Roronoa Zoro: His "Titan Barbell", a weight that can be used for training or as an alternative to Luffy's pipe if he needs a weapon that can hit harder. Usage: lost in an attempted coup de grâce in Luffy's first battle against Magellan.
    • Nami: A set of golden armor gauntlets and boots, to help protect him from Magellan's poison when fighting him. Usage: all destroyed in the final battle against Magellan, but only after buying Luffy much-needed aid.
    • Usopp: "Usopp Elastic Wonder of Doom" (a rubber band) and assorted ammo. Usage: general weaponry throughout his fights and stunning Magellan for a crucial moment during the final battle.
    • Sanji: The "Death's Door Lunchbox", seven days' worth of food with enough nutrients to keep an entire army on their feet... but if Luffy eats it all in one sitting, it'll bring him back from the brink of death. Or send him there, if he isn't already about to die when he eats it. Usage: consumed after Ivankov's life-saving surgery to get Luffy back to full-cylinders immediately.
    • Cross: Letters with his knowledge; besides Luffy's, he also included notes for Buggy and Ivankov. Usage: Luffy memorizes the information and uses it as a guide throughout the prison and the war, Buggy never entertains the thought of betraying Luffy, and Ivankov is well aware of what Luffy can do and is doing.
    • Soundbite: While he couldn't make a physical donation, he promises that his voice will be there with Luffy as long as the SBS is running. Which includes his Awakened Noise-Noise powers, allowing him and Cross to play mission control for the Whitebeards and Masons for most of the war.
    • Merry: The hammerspace duffel bag itself, made from her old coat. Aside from the obvious, Luffy also slips inside it to sneak on and off of Momonga's ship.
    • Chopper: A first-aid kit with everything he could think of, including twenty different antivenoms to help with Magellan's powers. Usage: various medical treatments, most notably saving Hancock from attempted assassination (poisoning) and causing Luffy to lose 5 years off his lifespan from Ivankov's treatment, rather than 10.
    • Vivi: Desert robes from Alabasta, intended for use in Level 3 of Impel Down. Usage: An effective disguise for Luffy for Levels 1 & 2 as well as their intended usage on Level 3.
    • Carue: A jug of Yuba water. Also used on Level 3, both for Luffy himself and for Byojack World.
    • Lassoo: A dozen baseball bombs, half normal explosives and half smoke bombs. Usage: General weaponry throughout the prison and the war.
    • Boss: The guide to the Six Powers that he swiped from Jabra's room. Usage: Luffy manages to half-learn Moonwalk (Moonstumble, basically), aiding him in his battle against Magellan, and the knowledge is shared with the Newkamas.
    • TDWS: Five bottles of fermented seaweed juice, which can serve multiple purposes. Usage: one given to Whitebeard as a gift, one offered to Mihawk as a bribe (he declined, but regretfully), two used as supercharged Molotov cocktails with help from Billy's feathers (one against Doflamingo and the other against a group of Vice Admirals), and the last given to Ace to amplify his fire.
    • Robin: A box of plastique explosives. Usage: breaking Luffy out of his cell on Level 5 and aiding with the above Molotov cocktails.
    • Conis: The Reject Dial she got from Wiper. Usage: Allowing Luffy to keep hitting hard while preserving his stamina, including defeating Vice Admiral John Giant in one blow at Marineford.
    • Funkfreed: A pair of sandals made of Taolf wood, the most buoyant wood in the world. Usage: running on water at Marineford to avoid the potential hazard of the ice footing being destroyed.
    • Franky: A laser pointer, for blinding enemies with a surprise attack. Usage: stunning Magellan during their first fight.
    • Brook: The Tone Dial they got from Shiki, with the recording of the Straw Hats singing Binks' Brew at their victory party after beating him. Usage: amplified at Marineford to shut down Irian's Chord-Chord powers.
    • Billy: Five of his feathers, supercharged with as much electricity as they could handle, which will detonate in the hands of anyone who isn't a Rubber Man. Usage: used with the aforementioned Molotov cocktails and also general weaponry at the war.

    Film — Animation 
  • Miss Spink and Miss Forcible know exactly what Coraline needs... a piece of rock with a hole in it. It helps. Well, they are good for bad things. Or is it lost things...? They were just savvy enough to recognize the utility of a Self-bored Stone.
  • Galadriel's little phial she gave Frodo, moreso in the animated The Return of the King, where the phial just shows up in Sam's pocket — due to rights issues preventing them from telling anything set up in the first two books, which Ralph Bakshi had the rights to.
    Sam: What's this? a vial. And what magic is in it to make it glow so? Handy, this thing...

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Subverted in the Cube films. Those imprisoned in the Cube have their memories wiped on How We Got Here, yet are often left personal items that help them (Leaven's reading glasses in Cube, so she can read the numbers on the rooms) or hinder them (Simon's knife in Cube 2: Hypercube, which makes him a threat to the others) or simply taunt them (Simon has a photo of the woman he was hired to find who has also been dumped in there, and a colonel is left with an empty Handcuffed Briefcase whose only use is to help him commit suicide). This is neither a Contrived Coincidence nor an attempt to help them succeed but something to do with the unknown purpose of the Cube.
  • In the Ewok Adventure TV movie, Mace is given a seemingly useless rock by Chief Chirpa. He discards it, but Wicket picks it up and gives it back to him, to Mace's dismay. Later when the group is trying to find the entrance to the Gorax's cave, Mace tries to use his blaster to make an opening, but it fails to destroy the rock. However, when he breaks open the little innocuous rock given to him by Chief Chirpa, a little arrowhead falls out and zips under a nearby boulder, which is revealed to be a secret entrance to the cave.
  • In Highway to Hell, Sam gives Charlie a magic shotgun built by his ex, Clara, and a car with a hidden turbo boost to help him on his quest.
  • Almost every James Bond movie has Q give 007 a stack of gadgets, which he would use once each in the course of the film. These would usually be unveiled in descending order of firepower and perceived uselessness, with the latter always proving to be the most essential, presumably because his captors wouldn't think to take it from him. Much more advanced and bizarre technology in Q's lab would be pooh-poohed as not ready for prime time.
  • The Man Who Would be King: In the glory days of the British Raj in India, ex-soldier Peachey Carnehan (Michael Caine) steals a pocket watch from a well-dressed white man (Christopher Plummer as Rudyard Kipling) at a train station. Peachey sees the watch fob is a Masonic emblem and, being a Mason himself, "has" to return the watch, hopefully without giving away his thievery. He does (or thinks so) and thus meets Kipling. Later Peachey and Daniel Dravot (Sean Connery), also an ex-soldier and Peachey's fellow "gentleman-of-fortune", meet with Kipling and tell him of a grand adventure they are about to embark on. Later still, as they leave for this adventure, in an impulsive gesture Kipling gives the watch fob to Dravot. It later saves their lives.
  • The everyday items in Paycheck. Rare film example of a plot setup involving the character collecting otherwise useless everyday items, justified in that the character knew exactly what was going to happen in the future and when. Although why such a security-conscious company would allow him, with their knowledge, to take a key card with him is anybody's guess.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean:
    • In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Tia Dalma gives Jack a jar of dirt. This isn't surprising, since the Pirates films seem to be influenced by LucasArts' Adventure Game series Monkey Island, which plays this trope.note 
      Tia Dalma: Land is where you are safe, Jack Sparrow. And so you will carry land wit' you.
      Jack: ...this is a jar of dirt.
      Tia Dalma: Yes...
      Jack: Is the... jar of dirt going to help?
      Tia Dalma: If you don't want it, give it back.
      Jack: No!
      Tia Dalma: Then it helps.
    • The Nine Pieces of Eight in At World's End. The Pirate Lords were, to a man, skint broke.
      Pintel: "Those are nine pieces of junk!"
    • Bootstrap's grungy knife as well. It seems an odd gift, but Bootstrap gives it to Will as if he knows he will need it and may never see him again. Will assumes he needs it to stab the heart. Ironic in hindsight.
  • Done rather poorly in Troll 2, when Grandpa Seth hands Joshua a double-decker baloney sandwich, saying "take this, and only use it when you really need it". The last 5 minutes of the film may not be a good time to introduce a vital Chekhov's Gun.
  • In Ultraman X The Movie: Here Comes! Our Ultraman!, resident archeologist and scientist Tsukasa Tamaki's young son, Yuuto Tamaki, likes to tag along his mother during archeological digs and collect random junk, which he keeps in his bagpack and insists they're "artifacts". And then one of the "junk", a Y-shaped stone fossil, turns out to be the fossilised Spark Lens of Ultraman Tiga, allowing Yuuto to summon said Ultra in the climax.
  • Another iffy example happens in Van Helsing when the monk-inventor sidekick introduces the hero to a seemingly vulgar stone that can produce a sudden burst of solar-like light. The monk-inventor insists he doesn't know why it could be helpful, despite knowing that they are going to travel to Transylvania to fight vampires who are vulnerable to daylight, then says he is going to take it anyway. Three guesses about what specific item they use to escape a palace filled with vampires at night later on.
  • Parodied in The Wrong Guy, where Nelson is given two tea bags and a sheet of wax paper and told that you can kill a man with them. When Nelson is attacked by the villain, he ineffectually waves the items around, as he has no idea how to use them.

  • Most of the Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf books qualify. Lone Wolf and the Fighting Fantasy series Sorcery!, being multi-part series rather than one-offs, are the most worrying with this — certain items might not come in handy for three books. Fighting Fantasy at least usually has no rules on how much you can carry. Lone Wolf is not so lenient. To make things worse, Lone Wolf sometimes subverts this with items that look like they fit this trope but which serve no purpose at all, or even a few that are actively harmful. And because it's a gamebook with branching paths, sometimes you'll just miss the path where an item is supposed to be used, carrying it around for dozens of later books with no payoff.
  • Quite frequent in GrailQuest, though the items are often rather bizarre. Especially notable in book 3, The Gateway of Doom, which adds a Critical Encumbrance Failure aspect, and has Merlin lampshades the trope in the text:
    Pip: Why should I want a gold braid, a joke book or a xylophone?
    Merlin: Why should you want a hammer or a saw?
    Pip: Because they might come in handy.
    Merlin: So might a gold braid, a joke book, and a xylophone. Anything might come in handy in an adventure like this.

  • As she leaves for a boat trip, Martine of Dolphin Song is given a plant by the old woman who's been teaching her about bush magic. Everyone teases her about it until it proves to be the cure (the only cure on hand) for Man o' War stings. The best part is, the woman told her later that she just wanted it out of her garden.
  • Common in live-action adventure games from the Dream Park series. Kevin's gift of a soot-covered rag in The Barsoom Project is a good example.
  • Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain by A. Lee Martinez. Mollusk keeps finding superfluous components in cybernetically-controlled organisms sent by the Brain to destroy him. The unusual thing is, all the components are based on his designs. The components eventually assemble into a device that plugs into a machine that shuts down the Brain and his cohorts, as part of a Batman Gambit arranged by Mollusk's future self, who's being held prisoner by the Brain.
  • Harry Potter
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Ford Prefect's penchant for towels. He insists to Arthur that they are useful in all kinds of situations.
  • The Hobbit: Bilbo finds the One Ring by complete accident.
    He crawled along for a good way, till suddenly his hand met what felt like a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel. It was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it. He put the ring in his pocket almost without thinking: "Certainly it did not seem of any particular use at the moment."
  • In the book Key To Rondo, Mimi's pendant and her lemon candy prove to be what the bad guys want, and the decoy.
  • In C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe three of the four main characters are each given a special object by none other than Father Christmas. Edmund was off elsewhere at the time.
  • Galadriel's gifts in The Lord of the Rings.
    • Her gift to Sam? A Box of Dirt with a seed in it. Galadriel specifically says it won't help Sam on his quest, but when he gets home. Given his vision in the Mirror, she has a fair idea of how it will be used.
    • Galadriel's little crystal phial of light-giving water. The movie version implies that Galadriel knows it will be useful against Shelob, but the book, less so.
    • Also Bilbo's gift of mithril armor to Frodo. Bilbo comments that it may be useful as armor, and it is. But its greatest usefulness comes when Frodo is captured. The orcs kill each other off fighting over it, clearing the way for Sam to rescue Frodo.
  • The Magical Monarch of Mo, Chapter 9 "The Wizard and the Princess". Princess Truella goes to the sorceress Maetta for help in retrieving her stolen big toe from the Wicked Wizard. The sorceress gives her a collection of items: a magical umbrella, a lump of putty, an iron ball, a mirror, a pack of chewing gum, a magical veil, and a winged dagger. All of these items turn out to be very useful to the Princess on her quest.
  • Subverted in Katherine MacLean's Missing Man, where a guru gives George (the protagonist) a quarter, saying "I can see into the future a little. In two weeks if you don't have a quarter you'll probably die," and "Tape it to your skin and forget you have it." In fact, the quarter does become (hypothetically) useful... except that George, as instructed, forgets that he has it, and so never uses it.
  • Subverted most effectively in Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy - Vin's earring, her only memento of her mother which she has been wearing since the start of the first book, turns out to be the way the Big Bad has been influencing her all along.
  • Nettle & Bone: Justified with the tapestry the Godmother gives Marra. Her Magically-Binding Contract bars her from providing aid to an enemy of the Northern Kingdom, but because Marra is completely unaware (until much later) that the tapestry contains a secret map, it doesn't count.
  • In Night Watch (Series), Anton is savvy enough to know that any amulet Geser gives him will most likely be useful in the near future. Even a low-level Other is able to view his own probability lines. An old and powerful Great Other like Geser can do it a lot better. Why would you need an enchanted SIM card in Uzbekistan? Well, to block GPS tracking on your phone, of course, in case someone decides to cause an avalanche at your location. Why would battle mages like Anton and Alisher need rings that protect against fire, ice, poison, and vacuum when they can just use the Mage's Shield spell? Because those will happen to be the spells that their enemy will use, and the battle mages will have The Load to protect.
  • In "Northern Lights" by Phillip Pullman the alethiometer (a divination device called the golden compass in the American edition of the book's title) is a very obvious instance of this trope. So are the titular Subtle Knife and Amber Spyglass of the other two books in the trilogy.
  • The everyday items in Paycheck. A plot setup involving the character collecting otherwise useless everyday items, justified in that the character knew exactly what was going to happen in the future and when. It's revealed that the machine wasn't just a viewer, it allowed one to extend a mechanical grasping arm through time to obtain objects. The protagonist uses it to grab the final MacGuffin out of the villain's hand at the climax, then his future-self pulls it out of his pocket.
  • In Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the eponymous character is given a pen and told only to use it times of great need. It helps. Given that it's a pen that can turn into a sword... He then proceeds to whip it out at any possible time whatsoever, probably because he's a teenage boy who owns a pen that turns into a sword.
  • In The Phantom Tollbooth, Milo is given gifts by many of the people he meets, and they all come in handy when he is facing the demons who live in the Mountains of Ignorance.
  • The toolkit Rainbow Dash gets from the rest of the Mane Six for her quest to obtain the Half-Gilded Horseshoe in Rainbow Dash and the Daring Do Double Dare.
  • In Ready Player One, Parzival travels to Planet Archaide, assuming it to be the location of the Jade Key. He plays a perfect game of Pac-Man, winning a quarter that was previously stuck to the arcade machine's monitor. The quarter has no special powers and Parzival is unable to remove it from his inventory. The quarter's power is revealed when Nolan Sorrento activates the Catalyst - a rare artifact that has the power to completely destroy every Avatar within a planet's radius, including the user - and wipes out all avatars during the Battle of Castle Anorak, only for Parzival to survive it due to the quarter giving him an extra life.
  • Sara combines this trope with Note to Self in the Relativity story "Sinkhole" when she arranges for a comic book and a newspaper headline to be delivered to herself several weeks in the future.
  • The Sirens of Titan features an interesting twist. The main character's son picks up a random piece of scrap metal during a factory tour on Mars. It becomes his lucky piece and he carries it with him everywhere for the rest of the book until they arrive on Titan itself. Turns out, this little piece of scrap is the replacement part the alien observer has been sitting around waiting for since before the dawn of humanity. It seems all of human history was guided (and perhaps even BEGUN) by his species remotely just to bring him this small piece of metal so he could continue his mission (which it turns out is just to say "Hi" to whoever lives on the far side of the universe). It's a bit of a downer realization until one considers that with this delivery/quest complete, perhaps humanity will be free to pursue its own destiny.
  • In Jim Butcher's novel Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours, Spider-Man asked Doctor Strange for his assistance in dealing with the Ancients, three malevolent beings related to Morlun (from the J. Michael Straczynski run). Strange refused, stating that doing so would undo the cosmic balance. He did arrange for his manservant Wong to prepare Spider-Man a sack lunch... which contained, along with a ham sandwich, three small stones which could be used to transport someone to an uninhabited dimension. After Spider-Man defeated the Ancients, Strange asked Wong what had happened to the stones, pretending not to know anything about their use.
  • In Whispering Nickel Idols, Garrett brings a bucket of kittens to Belinda's mob party, thinking he can get rid of a few by giving them away. (Morley lampshades how unlikely this is to work, but Garrett really doesn't want a bunch of cats in his house.) As it happens, the "kittens" are actually the Luck of A-Lat, whose presence soothes emotions and prevents a bloodbath at the gathering.
  • Subverted in Why We Took the Car: A man gives Maik and Tschick a bottle filled with a strange liquid, saying it will save their lives one day. They throw it out of the car once they're out of sight.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Estate of Panic: The most successful contestant in the second of three rooms usually received an item that might have helped them in the third. For example, in the first episode, a contestant was given a screwdriver but had to figure out where to use it (on the A/C vents) to earn the extra money.
  • Father Brown: In "The Lair of the Libertines", the slingshot Father Brown confiscates from a boy later helps save the lives of Lady Felicia and Mrs. McCarthy.
  • Game of Thrones: The iron coin Jaqen H'ghar gives to Arya. She uses it to barter passage across the narrow sea in "The Children."
  • Parodied on Garth Marenghis Darkplace, when ghostly Scots invade Darkplace Hospital: "What's this?" "Something that might come in handy."
  • Rather cruelly inverted in an episode of House, where they spend an entire episode looking for a cause for a young boy's ailment, only to discover that a piece of scrap metal used as a fob on his keychain was highly radioactive. Previously unrevealed to the audience, it had been randomly picked up by his father, a scrap dealer, and given to him as a Memento MacGuffin to remind him of his roots.
  • Played fairly straight in Merlin, episode "The Eye of the Phoenix", when the Fisher King hands Merlin the waterglobe and says "When all seems lost, this will show you the way."
  • In the first episode of MythQuest, Alex (as Theseus) is given a ball of string to help him navigate the labyrinth of the Minotaur.
  • Power Rangers Zeo: When Adam Park dreams about Mondo taking over, Rita and Zedd told him about a sorcerer that could vanquish Mondo's forces but needed items Adam needed to pick up along the way.
  • Happens on Tracker (2001) when Mel finds both her grandmother's diary and the strange triangular object. She finds it a bit odd but dismisses it and nails it up as a decoration, and it's only later that the writing on it is ID'd as Vardian and they learn that it's the key to the underground vault and that the diary's poetry was another key clue.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): The episode "What You Need" has a peddler whose entire case is filled with items that seem useless at the time, but turn out to be exactly what the person will need in the near future. The peddler himself is benign, even charitable, but when a gambler tries to abuse this ability he gives him what he needs: A way to get rid of the gambler.


  • From an episode of The Goon Show:
    Grytpype-Thynne: Now, here's a screwdriver, a blindfold, and a cucumber.
    Neddie Seagoon: Cucumber?
    Grytpype-Thynne: You've got to eat, haven't you?
    [it's actually a bomb]
  • Subverted in a sketch on Saturday Night Fry, when, on a mission to the Underworld to retrieve a deceased soul, Stephen insists that Hugh needs to bring a piano but won't explain why, saying only that they'll need it later. Halfway through, following an encounter with the river Lethe, no-one can remember what the piano is for and they leave it behind. We never find out any more.

  • In Richard Wagner's Siegfried, after Siegfried kills Fafner, he can understand the forest bird's song telling him to take the ring and helm. He doesn't know what they really are, but it keeps them out of the hands of Alberich and Mime. (Too bad that the ring is an Artifact of Doom...)

    Video Games 
  • There are items like this all over the place in Alone in the Dark (1992), e.g. an Indian cover, a heavy statuette, and others whose use isn't quite obvious at the beginning.
  • Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits has the mother of the main human character, Kharg, giving him an item called the Wind Stone, which was owned by his father which he split with his mother. It turns out the Wind Stone is one of the five Great Spirit Stones, and his twin brother, Darc, has the other half.
  • There's a piece of moldy cheese you had to pick up in the Blade Runner adventure game, too. You have to Pixel Hunt to get it. Semi-justified in that cheese was an illegal substance in the story. (Yes, they made a Blade Runner Adventure Game. It has 13 alternate endings.)
  • In Brain Dead 13, both times while trying to get away from the witches, Lance picks up an eyeball hanging on a rack for no discernible reason whatsoever. At the end of the game, he gets the idea to tie the two eyeballs together like a bola in order to stop Fritz as he charges at him, but that still doesn't answer the question of why he picked up the eyeballs in the first place.
  • In Casper: A Haunting 3D Challenge you collect fool's gold coins throughout the game. They appear useless until the final boss, where ghost Carrigan chases you around a maze and you can drop coins to distract her.
  • Everything about Marle's pendant in Chrono Trigger. It starts out as a MacGuffin, but once you go to Zeal, it's very important.
  • The two Discworld games, where there really are totally useless things to collect, albeit not many, making them more Red Herrings.
  • In Don't Escape: 4 Days in a Wasteland, when you find the floppy disk you get a feeling that it's going to be very important, and the game warns you not to let go of it under any circumstances.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Final Fantasy: You're given a Lute by Princess Sarah after you defeat Garland. This item does absolutely nothing until the final dungeon, where you play it to break a seal and move on. Remakes show your lead character playing it. The song? The Prelude.
    • In Final Fantasy IV, if you talk to Yang's wife at a certain point, she will give you a spoon. This turns out to be a thrown weapon, and the only weapon that does max damage against the final boss.
    • Earlier in the game, you get the FRYING PAN OF LOVE, no mere spoon, which is also a ridiculously strong throwing weapon. You're supposed to use the frying pan on Yang, and she'll give you the Spoon, which is an even better throwing weapon .
      • Actually justified, as the original Japanese indicates it is not a Spoon but a Kitchen Knife note , and in later ports and remakes, the "spoon" is much properly translated as such.
    • At the start of Final Fantasy XII, the main character Vaan breaks into the Palace of Rabanastre to 'liberate' the treasure within from the imperials. However, thanks to well-times distractions, he only manages to steal a shiny rock. This turns out to be the Dusk Shard, which falls into enemy hands when Vaan is captured. In a subversion, it's the villain who nearly wins because of it — he attempts to use it to power a giant airship.
    • In Final Fantasy VIII, if Squall talks to Cid just before leaving for his first SeeD mission, Cid presents him with an old lamp which he says is a cursed item but might come in handy. The lamp has the Guardian Force Diablos sealed inside it.
  • Green Moon is full of items that seem initially useless but turn out to be necessary for spells or potions.
  • "That thing your aunt gave you which you don't know what it is," from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1984) the Text Adventure game. The thing in question is a Clingy MacGuffin which doubles as a Bag of Holding. You can't get rid of it permanently, no matter how hard you try, and you can store things in it as well. It's very useful, but these miraculous properties are never hinted at in the game itselfyou have to discover them for yourself.
    • Worse, the game can't be completed successfully if the player hasn't collected every single one of the small objects in the game, beginning with ransacking the room at the game's start. The game's final challenge is to present a random one of those objects, but the game will always choose an object that the player hasn't collected if there are any.
  • Parodied in Icewind Dale II: Early in the game, you can pick up a dead cat item after completing a quest. Much later in the game, if you've held onto this useless item for all this time, you can get a dialogue option to offer it to another character. The character asks why on earth you would have a dead cat, to which you can guiltily admit that you thought it might solve some problem in the future and help you learn something from the experience.
  • Every game of Indiana Jones and His Desktop Adventures (an adventure game where the world and puzzles are randomly generated each time) should begin with Marcus giving you a briefing and giving you "something to get you going" — usually a priceless ancient artifact which inevitably turns out to be just the thing an NPC needs.
  • Kingdom of Loathing
    • The "Wand of Nagamar" has no combat or utility value (though the combat messages could be entertaining). However, it's required on the final Council Quest to provide an absurdly unlikely finale to The Naughty Sorceress.
    • The game has a considerable (and sporadically growing) number of such items, varying in degree of apparent uselessness, and has slowly begun to add skills of this type (such as the Disco Bandit skill "Gothy Handwave", which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin — and unlike other dance skills, does exactly what it does in real life).
    • Very few examples are actually handed to the player with the accompanying dialog, the rest of them Randomly Drops without drawing attention to their significance. The Amulet of Plot Significance which drops on the Penultimate Fantasy Airship is one subversion, but the Cid-like Captain Ersatz on the same ship gives you two items critical to completing that quest and The Very Definitely Final Dungeon.
      • After the Level 10 quest revamp, the Amulet of Plot Significance does help you on your quest, as it can be used to unlock the second level of the Giant's Castle.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The trend in the series, since at least the second game Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, is that you will always get what you need to complete the next dungeon either in that dungeon or right before it. This can become egregious at some points; how lucky is it that you found that item right before flipping over blocks and pots from a short distance away became a vitality important ability? It's sometimes justified by the dungeons being carefully laid out trials, but just as often it isn't brought up. Did whoever designed the fire-temple in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time know that the switches would become rusted over, and that's why they left a hammer capable of pressing them for you to find or was it just a coincidence?
    • The Legend of Zelda: "It's dangerous to go alone! Take this!" Sure is handy that some old geezer who is giving away the game's most essential item for free lives right where Link happened to begin his quest. Although the rest of the first game in the series is much less conveniently arranged.
    • In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess however, it seems that Link just decided to be smart after killing an enemy wielding a ball and chain and thought "hey, this could probably break all that ice I can't get past". Doesn't explain why no other enemy in the game wields a ball and chain.
  • In Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, you have Alex's ocarina from the beginning. You won't really need it until the very end when you have to save Luna from her self-imposed Heroic Sacrifice.
  • All the old LucasArts adventure games have this. If you can pick it up, no matter how random and useless it seems, you will at some point need it. Unless it's a Red Herring. And sometimes even then, as The Secret of Monkey Island has proven.
    • An interesting case occurs in Escape from Monkey Island in the Swamp O' Time. Guybrush meets himself in the future, who gives the present-Guybrush several items and holds a conversation with him. Shortly after, present-Guybrush ends up on the other side of the encounter and must follow the exact same routine as before in order to avoid a Temporal Paradox and restart the area. One of the items is a pistol, which makes Guybrush excited to finally get one, only to have to give it away soon after. The items themselves are a part of an Ontological Time Loop, as they have never been created.
    • Monkey Island plays with this one. At one point in the first game, you can pick up a staple remover, which Guybrush remarks will probably come in handy. Like almost everything else you find, it is seemingly useless, until:
      • One may use it immediately against a yak with wax lips.
      • Not to mention a Rhinoceros' toenails; probably the same Quarrelsome Rhinoceros you hypnotized earlier.
      • The staple remover can also be combined with the flint to blow up the dam on Monkey Island. Since this puzzle can be solved with the spyglass and the sun, it makes at least one set of items (or resulting scenery) useless.
      • "A rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle... what possible use could that have?"
  • A very minor example occurs in Mass Effect if you choose all the paragon interactions with the Asari Consort. She gives you a seemingly worthless trinket that you can later use on another planet, to discover a recording made by the protheans of early humanity (with some Experience Points and Credits of course).
  • Maniac Mansion:
    • One game that averted this was the original, which, due to having multiple characters and multiple endings, has many items that were worthless if you have the wrong party. It also has items that are completely worthless no matter what, such as the chainsaw, which has no fuel.
    • Interestingly, the sequel Day of the Tentacle goes back to the traditional tactic of not only having every single item be used at least once, but if the item is small enough to be passed through time, it will be needed in another time.
    • The only item that's never used is the hubcap....and you can leave it where it is.
  • In the first Mata Nui Online Game, after the Po-Koro event, as a reward for helping the town, you are given an item, the "Po-Koro chisel" which seems to have absolutely no use, surprising in a game where every single item serves at least some purpose in one way or another. Flash-forward to the ending cutscenes of the game where Takua is fleeing from the newly-awakened Bohrok, and he discovers a device with an indentation that bears a staggering resemblance to the chisel. If you can't guess what happens next, you haven't been paying much attention.
  • Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst, very early in the game you get a damp rag. And you're carrying it. And you're carrying it. It's long moved up to the head of your inventory. Turns out, about three-fourths of the way through the game, you need it to wipe dirt off the glass of a picture frame to get a necessary code.
  • In Okage: Shadow King main character Ari receives the music box his dad gave his mom when he was younger. It isn't used until Ari encounters Princess Marlene, where he gives it to her (regardless of what choice you pick), and wouldn't come into play until Ari disappears from the world, as the box is how Marlene is able to remember Ari due to his status being the only one not affected by Beiloune's Classification
  • In OneShot, there are a few of these. Specifically, the amulet Silver gives you, and the feather Calamus and Alula give you. They glow yellow because it turns out they have special yellow phosphor in them, very important later in the game.
  • In The Orion Conspiracy, LaPaz will give Devlin keys to open the cupboard in Danny's room. Also, Ward will give you a rotten biscuit to spite you later on. In both cases, the items are immediately useful in some way.
  • Pokémon:
    • Parodied in Pokémon Black and White: the post game begins with Looker coming to your home to ask for help apprehending Team Plasma's 7 Sages. He then gives you a Super Rod (a fishing rod), and the player character's mother asks what help a fishing rod would be. After thinking for a minute he admits that it would be no help whatsoever.
    • Also seems to show up in Pokémon Gold and Silver and the remakes. The player's mother saves some of the money they earn and randomly buys items. She'll always say "I'm sure you'll find it useful" or something like that when she calls to tell you.
    • In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers, the partner has a relic fragment which they treasure despite it being a useless item, and your first quest is to take it back after it has been stolen. This later turns out to be the artifact needed to allow one to enter the Hidden Land, which includes the final dungeon of the game's main story.
  • In Radiant Historia, the main character, Stocke, is given a seemingly useless book by his boss at the beginning of a mission.It ends up saving his life, and kickstarts the plot from there, by giving him the ability to travel to specific points in time.
  • In Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, The Plumber hands Ratchet a 3 3/4 Centicubit Hexagonal Washer saying "you never know when you'll need it." This item is utterly worthless throughout the game. As it turns out, it's used at the end to repair the Dimensionator and prevent it from destroying the galaxy.
  • The Dynamix adventure game Rise of the Dragon has one character give you the following items all at once:
    • A shiny rock, for luck. Useless.
    • A tome of "Ancient Wisdom." Every page reads "Don't Worry, Be Happy"
    • A fortune cookie with gibberish on it. Contains the solution to a game of Simon in the last part of the game.
    • And, "in case all else fails, some body armor."
  • In the Shadows of Hong Kong DLC for Shadowrun Returns, before the first main mission, you have the option of purchasing a "Rat Party" sim from Jomo for a pittance. You're not told what it does or how to use it. During the Lily Lai mission, you can interface it with a hologram projector to create a swarm of rats, thereby driving off the guards between you and the building's exit.
  • Every Sierra game has one of these. At least. Actually, it seems like an Adventure Game trope.
  • Silent Hill
    • When replaying Silent Hill, you find a device in the 7-11 lookalike that is of no use unless you're at certain locations (e.g. the rooftop of the oxidised Midwich Elementary) through which you get the Alien ending and a raygun for the next replay.
    • During the main story, Harry comes across the elderly witch Dahlia Gillespie, who assumes The Mentor role and gives Harry two items: a rather sensible key to a locked drawbridge, and a more bewildering puzzle-box device, along with the cryptic explanation that "these will help you". It later turns out that she's deliberately being vague because she's setting Harry up as an Unwitting Pawn).
    • Silent Hill 4: The Room subverts this trope with the "Shabby Doll", kindly offered to you by Walter Sullivan halfway through the game. Not only can you not use it, nor does it help you out in any way, but stashing it away in your inventory results in life-sucking, weeping baby heads sprouting from the walls. Players aware of this simply refuse the 'Shabby Doll', but those who aren't will accept it, because there is no reason to not take it.
  • In Spellcasting 101, there is a book that is so good you can't put it down. Literally. Once it's in your inventory, you can't drop it. In the penultimate puzzle, you give it to the Big Bad, and since he can't put the book down, he can't activate the MacGuffin, as the activation buttons are on opposite sides of it, requiring the use of two free hands.
  • Played with a bit in Starcraft II 's first campaign, which has protagonists Jim Raynor and Tychus Findlay (along with their army) gathering seemingly benign Xel'naga artifacts for the Moebius Foundation early on in the plot. While the fanatic Tel'darim put up quite a fight for it, and the Hyperion's resident scientist Egan Stettman detects some weird readings from them, none of them suspected that the artifacts were actually the pieces of a Lost Superweapon
  • Not really useless in value, but the wedding ring in Tales of Monkey Island is given to you in Episode 2 and proceeds to uselessly sit in your inventory. It ends up being the solution to the final puzzle of Episode 5.
  • In Tombs & Treasure, you get the lighter from the first room in the game, and it can't be used for anything until the last room in the game, where it's necessary to complete the game.
  • Downplayed in Undertale. In the end of Ruins, you receive Butterscotch-cinnamon pie, which is already Too Awesome to Use since it always heals you fully. However, if you decide to keep it through the Neutral or Pacifist Run, it reduces Asgore's ATK and DEF, or causes both Asgore and Toriel remember you as Lost Souls.
  • In Uninvited, picking up a certain seemingly important gem results in being demonically possessed about three turns later. Whoops. This is played differently in the NES version of the game, where it instead possesses you after 64 turns- which still isn’t enough to complete the game.
  • In the cancelled Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans, Thrall has to chase vultures off of a wolf's corpse so he can grab the bladder and stash it in his pocket. Of course, you end up needing it later on, but one has to wonder what compelled him to pick up a (still full) bladder in the first place...
  • Every Infocom game includes at least one of these. The best is the piece of braided black string in Zork 2, which seems completely useless at first, but turns out to be the fuse necessary to make sure you can get away before the plastic explosive to blast open the locked box goes off, without which setting off the plastic explosive kills you automatically.

    Web Comics 
  • Demonseed Redux: The sword Mama Baga gives Dee is, at first, a useless hilt. Later, it transforms into an Energy Weapon.
  • Parodied in the Dragon Tails RPG arc, in the same strip as But Thou Must!, nonetheless. Uncle Sparky, the dragons' slobbish uncle, offers the heroes some help.
    Uncle Sparky: I shall give you a half-empty pizza box and a bag of garbage to take to the curb. May they be of aid to you on your journey.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Annie got a "beacon" from Eglamore way back in chapter 20 (November 2008). It was finally used in chapter 39 (August 2012), and it did indeed prove useful.
  • The kids in MS Paint Adventures spend a lot of their time "alchemizing" various things. A few of them are useful, but most of the time, they just seem to be goofing around making things that are never referenced again.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Celia gives Roy a magical talisman that, when broken, would summon her to save Roy if he was in danger. Subverted, as he dies because he cannot break it. Celia had no idea humans couldn't shoot lightning from their hands.
    • Also, during an early adventure, Elan picked up a magic belt that can turn the wearer into the opposite gender. Some time later, Roy needed a way to sneak past the enemies without his weapon and Elan showed him the belt.
    • The above example later leads to a subversion of this trope, when we learn that at the time Roy had in his possession two potions, Shillelagh Oil and Delay Poison, which were exactly what he would have needed to escape the situation without having to don the belt of gender change, but he didn't think of it.note 
  • Problem Sleuth carries his precious cargo through the whole comic/game: four pieces of candy corn.
  • Stick Man Stick Man plays with this when Tina gets a screwdriver: see strips 862, 877, 886.
  • Wicked Awesome Adventure:
    • Rhys picks up a back-issue piece of Saucy Literature (centerfold: Sambal Kacang) that is a surprisingly useful item.
    • Other strange but useful items include a red rubber stopper, a traffic cone, and a mouse (with furniture).
  • Subverted in Yokoka's Quest: Yang gives Yokoka some Lava Powder, which is a medicine to cure fevers - she then forgets to use it when she gets a fever in the next chapter, and it is ruined note  in a fight a few chapters later.

    Web Original 
  • At the end of Episode 9 of The Mercury Men, Jack Yaeger gives Edward Borman his ray gun, implying he'll need it later.
  • Tends to happen a lot in The Questport Chronicles. During Year Two, the heroes find a bunch of junk, including an old spell, while searching for a different Plot Coupon; the spell becomes vitally important to retrieving the next Plot Coupon.

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of Darkwing Duck is made up of a long string of characters literally saying "This could come in handy some day." It's an aged Darkwing telling his supposed origin story, and everything from his gas gun to his martial arts skills is given to him with this note from the repeated giver. And damned if they don't all get used in sequence in the course of about a minute.
  • Subverted in an episode of Family Guy. After Quagmire has an affair with Cleveland's wife, Cleveland's swears revenge. Quagmire hires Mayor Adam West as a guard, but after failing to keep still, West decides to leave while giving Quagmire a banana and telling him "When the time comes, you'll know." Later, when Cleveland is chasing him, Quagmire throws the banana... and it does nothing. The scene is set up to invoke the classic banana peel gag to viewers, but Quagmire forgot to peel the banana before throwing it.
  • Freakazoid!: "The Wrath of Guitierrez" had the eponymous hero needing a MacGuffin to detach himself from a device on time to avoid deletion after an enemy sucked him into an Adventure Game. He needed certain items to help through his quest and lampshades the usual pixel-hunting with things like a soup bowl he finds behind a suit of armor ("I found a bowl, good for me!"). He also lacks the usual invisible inventory, and towards the end of the game is carrying a huge armload of stuff.
  • At the beginning of each episode of the James Bond Jr. animated series, the Gadgeteer Genius would give Bond three very use-specific items. Almost always he would use those three items in the same order they were given...
  • Molly of Denali: In Seal Meal," Sven lets Molly borrow his fishing hat, which has an extra fly and a bit of string in case she needs them. Sven's dog Thor rubs up against Molly, leaving some of his fur on her. Molly keeps it and uses it later to make a new fly.
  • The fourth season of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic consists of a Story Arc which involves a mysterious six-locked chest. Over the course of the season, each pony is given an item that gives off a rainbow shimmer. The finale reveals they're the keys in disguise; when coming into contact with one of the locks, they turn into their true forms.
  • In one episode of ReBoot, Season Three, AndrAIa and Matrix are training a small team of citizens from a rundown system to play Games and win. The game in question is modeled after typical RPG fantasy quest games, and the character who reboots as a wizard finds a feather on the path. He sticks it in his pouch. One other character sarcastically remarks "Great. If we meet the user, you can tickle him to deletion." Later, the feather proves instrumental in getting the team inside the castle, as it allowed the wizard to give himself wings.
  • As a parody or tribute to James Bond, Totally Spies! uses the exact same "three gadgets that each get used once" shtick.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): But Thou Must Take This, Jar Of Dirt, Take This


The final Magic Circle

The Origami Craftsman gives this mysterious item to Olivia, which is later revealed to be a Magic Circle used in the battle against Olly.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / ItMayHelpYouOnYourQuest

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