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Matryoshka Object

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"I'm full of tinier men!"
The Living Doll, The Tick

A form of replication in which a container holds a smaller version of itself. Sometimes, the smallest container holds a surprise for the person who goes through the trouble of opening all those layers.

In Russia, Matryoshka Dolls are commonly used to symbolize motherhood and fertility. In fiction, these types of objects can also serve as a visual motif for a character's nested identities or society's hierarchies.

Super-Trope to Nested Mouths and Recursive Ammo. See also Droste Image and Mini-Me. Compare to Nested Story and Recursive Reality.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL, Housaku Yasai uses move a called "Tomato Matryoshka" which allows him to summon another "Tomato Matryoshka" from his hand or deck when it is Normal Summoned.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. The titular mech is the size of a galaxy, piloted by Super Galaxy Gurren Lagann, the size of a moon, piloted by Arc Gurren Lagann, the size of a mountain, piloted by Gurren Lagann, the size of a house, controlled (mostly) by Lagann, the size of a large golf cart, piloted by Simon, the size of a man. Simon pilots himself. Taken even further in the movie edition, where the titular mech pilots Super TTGL, which is the size of several galaxies (TTGL makes up about the size of Super TTGL's head).
  • In Hetalia: Axis Powers, Santa goes missing one year, so the nations help by delivering presents themselves. Japan fills his gifts with games and boxes nested inside larger boxes.
    Kid: [opening his presents] Whoa! More boxes are in this box! No matter how many boxes I open, there're more inside them, Dad! It's like a matryoshka doll!
  • Used in the Wowser episode "Slap Happy Birthday" when Wowser finds a birthday present from Ratso on his doorstep, which turns out to be one of these, only for Wowser to find an itty-bitty (explosive) bone after taking all of the boxes out of the other.

    Comic Books 
  • In a The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic, Fat Freddy brings home a shrink-wrapped package of marijuana. It has another layer of shrink wrap inside, which has another layer, which has another... although just before Franklin and Phineas are about to kill him for spending their drug money on plastic bags, there is indeed a tightly compressed bag of marijuana at the very center.
  • In The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, Ultra Magnus turns out to be a cross between this and Meta Mecha; it's a long story...
  • Xs Omnibus: Played with when the character Auto creates a math rule in which the hypotenuse of every triangle becomes the smallest leg of a circle, all while the meaning of the word hypotenuse stays the same and the triangle remains a closed shape. This cause every triangle to infinitely collapse in on itself and create a Matryoshka-type paradox.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Discworld of A.A. Pessimal, Rebecka Smith-Rhodes is a young Witch whose first mentors in the Craft were Rodinian. A Rodinian witch with a more mystical streak uses the nested Matryoshka dolls to explain how it works: each successive layer in the doll represents another witch in the chain and you can go as far back as you like. She looks at Bekki and with each successive doll, speaks the name of a Witch. Bekki understands as she gets to the familiar name of Irena Politek, then opens the doll and brings out the whole and unbreakable smallest doll inside it. The witch names this as "Rebecka Yohannovna". Then the seemingly solid Bekki-object seperates in two and this reveals an even smaller doll inside - but just a shape in silver light. The mystic then tells Bekki "Who knows, Firebird?" and ends the illusion.
    • Bekki is aware the other Rodinian Witches (including her Godsmother) know more about the dolls than they are prepared to tell and expect her to work it out for herself. At a time of real peril, however, she discovers that like Rodinian stacking dolls - her inner dialogue can go all the way back to "Fifth Thoughts" and each level has a different, familiar, voice. Somehow the dolls are enabling this.

    Films — Animation 
  • In How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, one waiter serves a tray containing another waiter, and so on, until a tiny one gives a strawberry to Cindy Lou Who.
  • One of the toys in Toy Story is a nesting egg.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas:
    • A Mr. Hyde character that keeps a smaller Hyde under his hat, who in turn has a smaller Hyde under his hat.
    • A nested doll appears in the "Making Christmas" sequence, the smallest doll of which contains a live scorpion. (We never see it opened.)
  • In Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas, Scrat gets a giant acorn from Santa, which opens up to reveal another acorn inside, and another, and another and another, until eventually he gets the real (small) acorn in the middle.
  • The closing credits of Cars 2 show Fillmore, Sarge, Luigi, and Guido as nesting dolls.
  • One of the Misfit Toys in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a clown nesting doll, whose smallest doll contains a wind-up mouse.
  • The present which Donald Duck receives from Jose Carioca and Panchito Pistoles at the very beginning of The Three Caballeros.
  • In Rise of the Guardians, Badass Santa Nicholas St. North challenges Jack Frost by asking, "What is your center?" He uses a Matryoshka doll of himself to illustrate his point. Each consecutive shell reveals a facet of his personality; powerful, jolly, mysterious, until he shows the center doll, which has a baby-face with wide eyes to illustrate his center, his sense of wonder.
  • In The Frog Princess, the needle that can kill Koshchei is contained in an egg, which was swallowed by a bird, which was swallowed by a rabbit, which is locked in a box.
  • In Alice in Wonderland, under the Mad Hatter's hat is a smaller hat for the March Hare with an even smaller one under it for the Dormouse.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog (2020), one of Robotnik's machines is a mecha that, every time it explodes, releases a smaller mecha inside of it. At its smallest, it's a sticky time bomb that blows up and knocks Sonic unconscious.
  • In The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Morgana's prison is a literal nesting doll. She's trapped at the center, and each of the other layers imprisons a different Morganan (evil magician).

  • The Cat In The Hat Comes Back: The Cat has Little Cat A under his hat, who has Little Cat B under its hat and so forth. Underneath Cat Z's hat is the "Voom", which unleashes some kind of Reality-Breaking Paradox effect only for when the Godzilla Threshold has been reached (in the case, cleaning up the yard).
  • Inverted in The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins (also by Dr. Seuss): Cubbins' hat contains an identical hat. Removing the second hat reveals a third hat, which also looks exactly the same. Starting at hat 451, the hats actually get bigger.
  • In Cory Doctorow's Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, three of the protagonist's brothers are Matryoshka dolls in the literal sense (by the way, his father is a mountain, his mother a washing machine and two of his other brothers are an island and an undead ghoulish thing), so when the one with the actual digestive system goes missing, the other two start to starve.
  • In The Third Policeman, one of the policemen occupies his time making boxes which contain perfect smaller replicas of themselves. The protagonist is highly disturbed by this.
  • Toy Terror: Batteries Included has a child-sized Killer Robot called the Annihilator 3000, where upon being smashed by a golf club, breaks apart... only to reveal two smaller robots inside, two Annihilator 1500s. Turns out one of them (the one occupying the 3000's head-space) is evil and programmed to Kill All Humans, while the other is good.
  • Secrets of the Fire Sea has a virtual example: the Joshua Egg, a mathematical puzzle left as a clue to the Conquests' researches. Every layer of equations that is solved reveals a document and the next, smaller "Egg" inside.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Chase", Picard's old archaeology professor brings him a Kurlan naiskos as a gift. An ancient relic, the figure opens up to reveal several smaller versions of the figure inside.
  • In the Community Christmas Episode "Abed's Uncontrolable Christmas", Abed finds a gift labeled "Meaning of Christmas" has two nested boxes inside. Inside the last one is a DVD collection of the first season of Lost:
    Pierce: That's the meaning of Christmas?
    Abed: No, it's a metaphor. It represents lack of payoff.
  • Speaking of Lost, Howard L. Zukerman keeps diamonds a nested doll in the episode "Exposé".
  • The TV version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy has a traditional Russian one in its intro. Each doll is revealed to have an irate expression until the final one, which is blank. This is reflecting the search for a Russian mole at the heart of MI6.
  • In Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, the Humongous Mecha are nested in each other, each releasing the next-smallest. Sadly, the toys can't do that.
  • Doctor Who: In the serial "Logopolis", the Master disguises his TARDIS as a police box, and the Doctor materializes his TARDIS around it. Somehow this results in a large number of TARDISes-within-TARDISes, with the "innermost" one opening to a hitherto-nonexistent back door on the original TARDIS.
  • In one episode of Castle, Castle and Beckett have to check Eastern European shops to try to find a candy bar the victim had (so that they can hopefully identify her). Beckett tells the captain Castle "had to buy something in every shop!" He's then seen showing off a set of new nesting dolls, gleefully explaining that they defy the laws of physics because "Just when you think there can't be another one..."
  • An episode of The Big Comfy Couch had Loonette and Major Bedhead unwrapping an extra large package that Auntie Macasar had delivered, only for every box to progressively contain a smaller box. Inside the smallest box were some extra small toiletries for Molly.
  • In The Librarians Koschei's Needle is a dagger hidden with a series of nesting chests, each a different color.
  • In the fifth season of The Masked Singer, a trio of singers has this as their costumes, known as the Russian Dolls. As commented in the promo for the season: "They multiplied!? Could there be more?" Indeed, one of the biggest challenges for the judges was figuring out exactly how many singers were actually part of the costume.
  • Cutthroat Kitchen used one of these as a sabotage, consisting of a three-gallon, a one-gallon, and a twelve-ounce set of stock pots that the chef had to shuffle through every ten minutes, starting with the biggest and moving to the smaller ones. The chef who ultimately ended up with this struggled heavily, failing to even get his water boiling with the three gallon one and spilling almost half of his dish when moving from the middle pot to the smallest one.

  • One of the "good" things listed in "Definition of Good" by They Might Be Giants is "Thing that's stored in a larger version of itself".

    Pro Wrestling 

    Video Games 
  • One of the enemies in Alien Hominid is a bunch of robotic Russian Doll bears that fight you partway through the boss.
  • Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum from American McGee's Alice can open up and spawn smaller, weaker copies of themselves.
  • You can get a couple of them to decorate your home with in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Gulliver will give you a traditional, 3-piece set as a souvenir if he asks you trivia about Russia, and if you build an anatomically satisfactory snowman, it may thank you by sending you a 4-piece snowman family set in the mail. Both can be opened out in a row or tucked back away by touching them.
  • In The Binding of Isaac, it's possible to open a chest only to find another, smaller chest inside of it. This can potentially happen multiple times in a row, leading to smaller and smaller chests.
  • Bloons Tower Defense: Every single Bloon except the Red Bloon counts as one, holding one or more lesser Bloon types within and releasing them when popped.
  • In Devil Survivor 2, the manifested Dragon Stream is one of these. It's a segmented "dragon" made up of heads linked by Nested Mouths. When you beat Mizar, it ends up swallowing Mizar along with every head in the chain until the last is left.
  • Some treasure chests in Donkey Kong Country games are like this, and the inner chests are inexplicably the exact same size as their containers.
  • Doom Eternal: The BFG 9000 can be found powering the BFG 10000, a battleship-sized version of the normally hand-carried weapon.
  • In Final Fantasy VII:
    • The Grangalan outside Costa del Sol can spawn smaller versions of itself known Grangalan Jr. for the second generation and Grangalan Jr. Jr. for the third and smallest generation.
    • The Black Materia is contained within the Temple of the Ancients. When the party goes in and discovers it, they discover it is actually a replica of the real thing, and the real Black Materia is actually the Temple itself that contains it.
  • In JumpStart Kindergarten, there's a game where you can interact with the matryoshka dolls.
  • In Kid Icarus: Uprising, this is one of the forms Thanatos assumes during his boss fight.
  • In Luck be a Landlord, a Matroyoshka Doll symbol will periodically destroy itself only to become a smaller doll with a larger payout, until it reaches its smallest size.
  • The Mammoshka boss in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. It's a mammoth like creature inside a whole horde of mammoth like shells each slightly bigger than the one inside it. The actual creature even turns out to be less than half the size of the thing you start out facing!
  • Moshi Monsters has Yana the Bobbly Wobblov, who's animation makes them pop open.
  • In Paper Mario: Sticker Star, the boss of World 4 is a gigantic ice statue of Bowser. Once you deplete its health enough, it breaks apart, only to reveal an identical, smaller statue within. This continues until you uncover the one controlling it, a Mr. Blizzard.
  • Pronty has an Advancing Boss of Doom, Raksha, who's as large as the tunnel it's fought in and pursues you until it's defeated. The moment Raksha dies, however, it regurgitates a smaller, red version of itself, and you need to defeat it all over again! Thankfully the smaller red Raksha isn't as difficult as it's initial form.
  • The Room (Mobile Game) is centered on an elaborate puzzle box, with intricate contraptions in every side that eventually open it to reveal another puzzle box inside, which in turn leads to another, and so on. Given that you have to use a special eyepiece to see some of the clues to solve them, and how each box is more complicated than the one before, things get stranger and stranger the deeper you go.
  • Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade's Revenge: The Final Boss starts as an Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever and shrinks into smaller forms the more you damage it, until finally the mecha is destroyed and a half-dozen Arcade robots pop out of it.
  • Stacking takes place in a world of Matryoshka dolls, so this counts for everyone in it.
  • Star Ruler allows people to design their own starships, then adjust the ship size, from smaller than a Coke can to larger than the galaxy. It's possible to build a size 2000 carrier which has docking space for a size 1500 carrier, then a 1000, then a 500, et cetera. With Quantum Compressors, the trope can be Inverted - it's possible to build a ship with a storage space larger than the ship itself, allowing ships to vomit out progressively larger ships.
  • The Battling Blowfish in Mii Force in Streetpass Mii Plaza is a giant pufferfish robot. After you break it's blue outer shell, it reveals a smaller, red one, after that there is still a yellow one inside.
  • Subnautica: the Cyclops is a submarine which contains a small docking bay suitable for storing either a Seamoth (a smaller submarine) or a PRAWN Suit (a Mini-Mecha). Both of these mount small storage compartments in which the player might choose to stash a Seaglide (a DPV, thus allowing the player to put a vehicle inside a vehicle inside a vehicle.
  • Titanic: Adventure Out of Time: To recover Georgia's real diamond necklace, you must get into Sacha's cabin, figure out the combination to his safe, and take out a Matryoshka doll which is the necklace's hiding place.
  • Ultima makes this a signature of the Guardian's magic constructs, with nearly all of them being hollow geometric objects containing a smaller copy of themselves inside.
  • You Don't Know Jack: The intro to the "Elephant, Mustard, Teddy Roosevelt, or Dracula?" questions on the Facebook version of the game include matryoshka dolls of an elephant, a bottle of mustard, Theodore Roosevelt, and Count Dracula. In The Jackbox Party Pack, similar intros accompany the "Kangaroo, Peanut, Albert Einstein, or Uranus?" questions from YDKJ 2015 and the "Octopus, Coffee, Queen Elizabeth, or Frankenstein?" questions from YDKJ Full Stream.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation:
    • SCP-641 ("The Pacifier"). SCP-641 appears to be a normal matryoshka doll, but the dolls are extremely thin and the total number of dolls inside is unknown (it's at least 3,228, and may be infinite).
    • SCP-1917 ("The Armour Maker"). SCP-1917-1-36 through SCP-1917-1-42 are duplicates of Russian-made T-34/76 tanks that were created by SCP-1917. Each successive tank is 20% smaller than the previous one, and they were designed so they could be nested inside each other.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Fleischer cartoon Bimbo's Initiation, Bimbo opens a door which contains a smaller door, which contains a smaller door and so on. The smallest door eats Bimbo.
  • In the exclusive ending of the Blue's Clues episode "Blue's Birthday", Steve opens a present with an increasingly smaller present inside each one, similar to the Wowser example. Unlike that one where it was mean spirited, Steve gets a heart-shaped cookie from Blue that says "Thank You" for giving her the best birthday.
  • Razzberry Jazzberry Jam: One of the presents Louis gets in "Tuning In" is a crate from the "Bandleader Of The Year Association" full of smaller crates. The smallest, which is about palm-sized, contains a trophy that could not possibly have been able to fit inside it if not for the show's liberal application of Hammerspace.
  • The Tick: The Living Doll from "Grandpa Wore Tights" has the superpower to split his body in half and produce a smaller clone of himself. Hence his ridiculous-sounding battle-cry "I'm full of tinier men!"
  • In the Daffy Duck & Bugs Bunny cartoon The Million Hare (1963), Daffy and Bugs compete to win a prize, which turns out to be a "million box"... which proves to be just that: an enormous wooden crate, with one million tiny cardboard boxes inside. However, each of the boxes contains a $1 bill, and Daffy doesn't find out until after he cedes the prize to Bugs.
    • In "Knight-mare Hare", a sorcerer turns Bugs into a horse, but Bugs is able to remove it like a costume. Later, Bugs uses the same spell on the sorcerer, but when the sorcerer tries to remove the horse costume, he finds himself wearing an identical costume underneath, which has another costume underneath, and so on.
  • Static Shock: In a Crossover with Superman: The Animated Series, Static and Superman fights a giant robot toy monkey, courtesy of Toyman, which unleases several smaller versions of itself.
  • Tom and Jerry
    • In "Safety Second", Tom is cornered by a large firecracker. Instead of blowing up, it breaks apart to reveal a smaller firecracker, which then reveals a smaller firecracker, and so on until all that is left is a tiny firecracker. Tom holds it in his hand and places it on his nose, and then it goes off with a huge explosion.
    • A similar gag happens in "The Yankee Doodle Mouse" except that Tom holds up the firework close to his face instead of placing it on his nose.
  • In the Dexter's Laboratory episode "Mom & Jerry", Dexter (in the body of a mouse) hides from his mother inside a nesting doll. ...except he isn't the smallest doll and his mom actually removes his head to inspect the smallest of the nesting dolls, not realizing her mistake. While her attention is away, Dexter puts his head back on and sneaks away. Perhaps it's best not to think too much about how Dexter pulled that off, boy genius or not.
  • A couch gag in Season 9 of The Simpsons has Homer run in front of the TV alone and the top half of his body pops off to reveal Marge. Inside Marge is Bart, inside him is Lisa and inside her is Maggie.
  • The Playhouse Disney series Higglytown Heroes featured characters whose appearance was modeled on these types of dolls.
  • In Ultimate Spider-Man (2012), there's a Doombot that contains a smaller Doombot which contains a smaller Doombot and so forth - all of them nasty, right down to the mouse-sized one. They get loose on the SHIELD helicarrier.
  • Mr. Scatterbrain from The Mr. Men Show does this in a music video from the episode "Movies".
  • There is a Mr. Bogus claymation short where Bogus finds a large fruit on the kitchen counter, but each time he cuts it open, the peeling falls apart to reveal a smaller fruit inside, and so on, until he is forced to settle with eating the tiny fruit found in the center.
  • The Family Guy episode "Spies Reminiscent of Us" has a gag where Stewie becomes one of these when he arrives in Russia.
  • In the Mickey Mouse (2013) short "Dancevidaniya", Mickey gives Minnie a nesting doll, with the innermost doll being a Faberge egg twice the size of the largest doll. Later, When Mickey confronts Pete, he opens himself up like a nesting doll and out comes multiple Mickeys who outdance Pete into submission. At the end, Mickey produces a full-size sleigh with horses from the Faberge egg.
  • Mickey Mouse encounters a door-based variation of this near the end of The Mad Doctor. He comes up to a door and opens it and four other doors apparently all on the same hinges, but the sixth one won't budge. Mickey decides to ram it, but gets outsmarted by the door's judo skills.
  • In "Lady Madonna" from Beat Bugs, the Beat Bugs help Lady Madonna, who is one of these. Her children are the dolls inside her, but one of them, Pasha, has gone missing.
  • In Men in Black: The Series, there is a race of miniscule Greys who pilot Mobile Suit Humans to blend in with humanity called the Arquillians. There's also another race called the microcephalopods who use arquillian mobile suits to bodyjack the arquillians' human mobile suits!
  • In The Amazing World of Gumball, in "The Diet", Gumball and Darwin are searching for Richard's junk food stashes. They find a banana, which they almost don't confiscate due to it seeming like the only healthy item. Then Gumball peels it back to reveal an ear of corn, which they still decide to let Richard keep due to corn still being relatively healthy. Then Darwin peels the corn kernels back to reveal a corn dog Richard was hiding inside the other two objects.
  • Total Drama:
    • In "Mo' Monkey, Mo' Problems", the monkey eats the coin the Wâneyihtam Maskwak have to retrieve from it. Then the monkey gets eaten by a bear. The team guides the entire bear back to Chris, who reminds them the coin has to be useable to win the challenge. Sugar performs the Heimlich maneuver on the bear to get the monkey out and grabs inside the monkey to get the coin out.
    • In "Sky Fall", Jasmine states that she isn't afraid of crocodiles, but since the ones coming after her are sent by Chris, she reasons there's a good chance there's tigers inside them and sharks inside the tigers. Of something like that, she is afraid.
  • Let's Go Luna!: In "What a Matryoshka", Leo orders a Russian nesting doll but gets the wrong one. It's up to the gang to return the giant matryoshka doll to the store.
  • Work It Out Wombats!: In "Junior Supers," Super uses a nesting doll to show how big jobs can be broken up into smaller jobs.

    Real Life 
  • Why, the matryoshka dolls themselves! A common variation of them is a matryoshka with faces of various Russian leaders, usually from Lenin to Putin.
  • Plastic nesting cups, a popular baby toy in America, are just a cup version of these.
  • By definition, baby mammals are smaller versions of their parents. Marsupials bring up the analogy to perfection.
  • Aphids. The females are actually born pregnant. A Squick factor emerged when zoologists figured out how. note 
  • Nested functions are common in computer programming.
  • A common prank/trick at Christmas is to wrap a special item within multiple layers of boxes. This is also the basis of the game "Pass the Parcel" — a prize is hidden within multiple layers of packaging and is passed around while music plays. When the music stops, whoever's holding the parcel gets to remove one layer.
  • A more sinister example are the MIRVs, Multiple Independently-targetable Reentry Vehicles. These are missiles that hosts many smaller missiles inside them. They may be armed with nukes.
  • The smallest scale of model railroad, Z scale (1:220), can be used on larger model railroads to represent a model railroad. Yes, a model railroad featuring a model railroad. xkcd had fun with this idea.
  • Telescopic antennas are a textbook example of matryoshka principle in technology.
  • The Temple of Kukulcan in the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá, Yucatán is a Matryoshka pyramid, with at least two smaller pyramids in it. There are a few theories as to why it was built that way. A new pyramid could have been built simply as a renovation of the old one, or alternatively, built to erase the past from the city's memory with the arrival of a new leader. It's quite possible most of the Mayincatec pyramids are like this, beacuse why demolish or repair such a structure when it'd be much easier to simply build a new pyramid on top of the old one?
    • Some long-standing castles in Europe are like this, having had successive layers of fortification added over the centuries to partially or entirely enclose smaller and older defensive structures.
    • Could also be said of large cities worldwide, that have expanded over generations by absorbing one ring of suburbs and satellite villages after another.
  • As mentioned in the webcomics section, the Matrioshka or Matryoshka Brain, a hypothetical object consisting of nested Dyson Spheres. The innermost layer takes in energy from the star and runs a massive computer system, with the next layer absorbing the waste heat from the inner layer to run its own systems and repeated for however many layers are built. Perhaps one of the most triumphant examples of Abusing the Kardashev Scale for Fun and Profit.
  • Atoms. It was originally thought that an atom was the smallest indivisible particle. Then we found out they were made up of smaller particles. Then we found out ''those'' particles were made out of even smaller particles. If the trend continues we will eventually find out that those are made out of smaller still particles.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Nesting Doll Object



Mammoshka, after running out of HP, has it's first layer broken. Then the Mario Bros chase it down and break apart each successful layer until eventually jumping on the creature itself, defeating it.

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Main / MatryoshkaObject

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