The Best Podcasts of 2017

Media Lists
The Best Podcasts of 2017

Since there’s no form of mass communication with a lower bar of entry (with the exception of blogging), finding the best podcasts of 2017 is kind of an impossible task. But as the sheer number of podcasts out there has grown, so has the audience for them. Edison Research has found that 40% of Americans have listened to a podcast with almost a quarter having listened to a podcast in the previous month. iHeartMedia alone has more than 600 different shows, and NPR’s 41 shows have accounted for more than 100 million downloads.

Instead of combing the thousands of shows out there, we just want to highlight some of our favorite podcasts of 2017. These range from serious (and irreverent) looks at politics to extremely specialized topics to hilarious comedy series. We aren’t going to attempt to rank our favorites. These are simply 35 podcasts that kept us sane, entertained and informed during the craziness of 2017.

Here, in alphabetical order, are the 35 Best Podcasts of 2017:

1. 12 Hour Day with J.D. and Connor

I think even the hosts of 12 Hour Day (The Chris Gethard Show’s J.D Amato and Connor Ratliff) would say that this podcast sounds like peak comedy-dude narcissism: Two guys record themselves talking for 12 hours straight every episode. In the hands of lesser hosts, it might have been. But not only has 12 Hour Day turned out to be a formally inventive exercise in endurance on their part, it’s also a weirdly comforting experience. Whether they sequester themselves in an apartment and make a meal or just wander around New York all day bumping into friends, they will hit that moment a few hours in where they kind of forget they’re recording a podcast, and the artifice of the medium is largely stripped away. —Graham Techler

2. Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People

I’m so glad that the Webby folks gave Chris Gethard the love and recognition he deserves. At the time of writing, the comedian has been on the other end of a total of 58 anonymous phone calls—ranging from a Trump supporter to an amateur ASMR sound artist. His show has had a wild ride and has an especially active online community of followers, fans, and friends. Earwolf has promised that Chris will be around for many moons to come, but have a look at the incredible, remarkable archive. It’s binge-worthy and definitely a wonderful audio gem to introduce to first-time podcast listeners. —Muira McCammon

3. Bitch Sesh: A Real Housewives Breakdown

Danielle Schneider and Casey Wilson’s Real Housewives-themed podcast takes podcast fandom to the next level. Secret regional Facebook groups uniting thousands of Housewives fans are only the tip of the iceberg. A dedicated fanbase is already up and running—you just have to join up. At the heart of all of this is Schneider and Wilson, two insanely inventive hosts who elevate Bitch Sesh far, far beyond the usual purview of recap podcasts. You 100% do not have to be a fan of Bravo shows to enjoy a good Bitch Sesh. —Graham Techler

4. Blank Check with Griffin & David

What began with a hyper-extended bit is now the logical opposite. When Griffin Newman and David Sims started recording together, their own little slice of the Internet was a podcast about two guys watching Episode I: The Phantom Menace but pretending that George Lucas did not have an Empire behind him when he released the prequels, attempting to divorce the Star Wars episode from all of the iconic context that has since made it almost impossible to judge the movies on their own merits. With Blank Check, #thetwofriends embraced all the context they once swore off. The conceit is simple: With producer Ben Hosley and a small group of (typically) New-York-based movie critic friends (as well as, this year, the appearance of director Alex Ross Perry, David Rees and Demi Adejuyigbe, along with Newman’s co-star on The Tick, Peter Serafinowicz), each episode takes on a film in a director’s filmography, focusing on those filmmakers who reached “early success” in order to make their “blank check” passion project. This means obsessive auditing of big names who had a big year in 2017—Kathryn Bigelow, Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg—smattered with palate cleansers, like having their siblings in to talk about favorite movies (The Devil Wears Prada, Lost in Space), or having Soaking Wet Ben Hosley suggest a between-series one-off. Inside jokes and call-backs and segments abound throughout each series—the sheer weight of such threatening to occupy more pod-time than discussions of the films themselves—but nothing is ever alienating or too esoteric to wade through. Because at the heart of Blank Check is a devotion to movies, and all that love is an acknowledgement that nothing is ever devoid of context. You saw this movie on this particular day with this particular person. You memorize decades of box office numbers, as Griffin did, to bond with your dad. You watch Coming to America, as my wife does, to feel better when you’re sad or sick. You cry when Steve Zissou sees the shark that killed his best friend, as I do, and you also wonder if anyone will ever remember you. This is movie criticism as it should be. —Dom Sinacola

5. Chapo Trap House

The bare facts of cult podcast Chapo Trap House are these: three minor Twitter celebrities—Will Menaker (@WillMenaker), Matt Christman (@Cushbomb) and Felix Biederman—(@ByYourLogic) who straddle the worlds of Left Twitter and Weird Twitter, after years of collaborating on the Internet, got together to mock a movie, 13 Hours, on a friend’s show. They carved the beast well, and got such a response that they decided to record their own podcast. They named it “Chapo Trap House,” because they wanted the title to sound like a mix tape. Chapo has become an underground cult hit for up-all-night weirdos, MMA aficionados, Twitter fetishists, and most of all the irreverent left. It’s unlike any comedy or political podcast I’ve ever listened to, and I’ve heard ‘em all. To say Chapo is in “poor taste” is to mistake taste for clear thinking. Chapo is not depraved—it sees clearly. It is not deliberately offensive, but unapologetically honest, which explains the exhilaration of listening to it. This highly irreverent, profane show is so hilarious and delightfully vulgar I can barely stand it. —Walker Bragman

6. The Daily

Every weekday, host Michael Barbaro breaks down one of the day’s biggest stories in this 20-minute podcast from The New York Times. Barbaro’s guests are NYT reporters who’ve often spent weeks getting to the bottom of whatever hot-button issue is on their beat. It’s like All Things Considered, only much narrower and much deeper. This is the kind of podcast that would be impossible without the full weight of one of the biggest and best reporting institutions on the planet. From sexual-harassment scandals to major legislative fights to the stories of countless individuals who are affected by whatever the latest executive order or U.S. policy change is, The Daily provides a better understanding of a single piece of news that’s fit to print. —Josh Jackson

7. Death: The Podcast

You wouldn’t expect a show called Death: The Podcast to be full of laughs and life, but it is. This might be the best export out of New Orleans, folks, and the team of producers know it. Their website leads with this gem of quote, “New Orleans has a unique relationship to death: we have a ridiculously high murder rate, we party at funerals, and we end up above ground.” The podcast has consistently tackled quirky topics that are far from the somber. Also, the show’s host, Arian Elfant, has a crazy cool background: she’s a clinical psychologist in private practice. Check out her January 30 episode for a special dive into the life and times of a Certified Life Celebrant. —Muira McCammon

8. Don’t Get Me Started

Will Hines and Anthony King might have the most underrated rapport in podcasting. That likable everyman quality extends to the premise of the show; enthusiasm is its own kind of expertise. Having improvisers/comedians come on to talk about anything other than improv/comedy isn’t just refreshing, it’s accessible: Just hop on board with whatever topic interests you most. Whether the show sparks a new obsession or inspires a heated debate (I have spent many happy afternoons discussing what qualifies a “Band That Does Its Job”), it will remind you how much fun it is to just hear someone talking about something they love and want you to love. —Graham Techler

9. Embedded

The co-host of All Things Considered describes her podcast this way: “Sometimes, there’s a story that just won’t go away, one of those news stories that you keep thinking about. This is a podcast, where we’ll just go with a story like that and run with it and go as far as we can until we get a bunch of answers to the questions that we have.” Kelly McEvers uses sound and storytelling to dissect police encounters caught on video. As she travels to Charlotte, North Carolina; Flagstaff, Arizona; and New Richmond, Ohio, she probes just how many interpretations there can be of one single video, one flash in time. —Muira McCammon

10. Foreign Policy’s The Editor’s Roundtable

David Rothkopf is CEO and editor of the Foreign Policy Group. He’s hilariously witty, and he still has hope. He’s what some on the show call a “beautiful optimist.” You don’t need to be a beautiful optimist to enjoy episodes like “But Mattis, but the World, but the Law, but Bureaucracy….” You just need to care a wee bit about the rule of law. Together, David Rothkopf, Kori Schake, Julia Ioffe, and Susan Hennessey look at the world beyond Trump. Which countries might act rationally in the face of chaos? Who in Trump’s administration might prove to be a rational leader? What does it mean to be rational in the 21st century in America? No one really knows the answers to all of these questions, but this panel makes a valiant effort to decipher not just the state of the nation, but also the state of the world. —Muira McCammon

11. Hardcore History

For more than a decade, Dan Carlin has served as the internet’s history teacher, tackling a different war each semester and bringing to life the people who shaped the world through their military brilliance, incompetence or preference for poetry over the horrors of battle. This year’s syllabus included two six-hour episodes on the beginning of the Nuclear Age and the The Celtic Holocaust. He digs into primary sources and scholarly analysis to cut to help explain events that were mostly reduced to names and dates in high school. —Josh Jackson

12. Hidden Brain

How do our bubbles entrap us? What does it take to burst them? What prompts people to vote against their own ideologies? Shankar Vedantam tackles those funky things called feelings on the episode The Deep Story. It’s a story about stories, an exploration of the complicated emotional terrain so many of us inhabit today. In this episode the renowned sociologist Arlie Hochschild talks about her research, her journey from Berkeley to Louisiana, and her many conversations with Trump supporters. She uses incredibly rich metaphors to describe anger and inequalities in the United States. It’s a short episode from one of my favorite podcasts. —Muira McCammon

13. How To Be a Girl

I do not know if I have ever heard a thing more beautiful, more enchanting, more heartbreaking than this autobiographical show—a journey into a child’s perception of self, gender, and identity. What does it take to instill fear or hope in a young being? How can a single parent foster love in a time of transformation? This podcast probes what it means to be a girl. I would advise listening to “A post-election message from my 8-year-old trans daughter,” if you can. It’s about a minute long and is definitely the best post-electoral audio meditation that I’ve heard. —Muira McCammon

14. The Important Cinema Club

Justin Decloux and Will Sloan know no one is really asking for another movie podcast hosted by more than one erudite white guy, so they operate as if no one’s listening (though, in their second year of operation, it seems like they’re slowly accumulating some dedicated fans) and don’t pretend their conceit is any more original than any other movie podcast hosted by more than one erudite white guy. Each week, the two introduce a filmmaking topic shrouded in some sort of renown, and then run a primer on why that thing—person, genre, event, from Jim Carrey to Orson Welles, from iconic cinematographers to Poverty Row stand-bys, from TIFF to Halloween movie marathons—is worth knowing about, given that, in a culture of hot takes and all access, any one person only has so much time to consume something supposedly worth that time. It helps that by sticking to directors and assorted filmstuff they genuinely adore (or, in the case of some Patreon-only episodes, they have a lot of nostalgia attached to), they can build up an authority that pays handsomely when it comes to having people take their recommendations seriously, but that’s not why anyone should listen to The Important Cinema Club. You should listen to the Important Cinema Club because everything they talk about is completely soaked in their love, in the kind of love that demands a lot of reading and research and humility and the kind of genial nature that sees the words “soaked in their love” and thinks that was a good thing to write. —Dom Sinacola

15. The Last Podcast on the Left

For all of your horror, true crime and utterly bizarre cult needs, Last Podcast On The Left is about to be your new go-to podcast. Hosted by Marcus Parks, Ben Kissel and Henry Zebrowski, it’s one of the flagship shows of The Last Podcast Network. You will definitely learn something new while listening to LPOTL, as each show is meticulously researched to the point of exhaustion. Whether you’re in the mood to hear about Scientology, horrific serial killers or insane alien theories, LPOTL has you covered. It’s hilariously informative, sometimes completely inappropriate, but always a good time. —Annie Black

16. Lean Back: Critical Feminist Conversations

Laura Weiderhaft and Lisa Corrigan are on a mission to explore how women think about work, politics, and challenges facing feminists in the twenty first century. Each episode is titled with a single word, like “monstrosity,” “utopia,” or “killjoy.” It’s a creative concept and an all-around wonderful show. —Muira McCammon

17. Leave A Message After the Tone

No one wants to listen to another podcast on Trump (apologies to Slate,’s Trumpcast crew). But Leave A Message After the Tone has an episode on the U.S. president that will crack you up. In episode 2, “Trump l’oeuf,” listeners left voice messages in response to these tantalizing questions: what does Donald Trump eat? How does the man put together a hot dog? What does he do at dinner parties? You’ll have to tune in to get the full scoop, but responses are rivetingly hilarious and range from the short (“He eats shit”) to the simple (“He eats cream cheese”) to the complex (“One thing that really makes me sad is that I think he might really like shellfish, and I really like shellfish”). The most important food group—quinoa—gets a mention too. Is Trump our century’s Marie Antoinette? How will he change the food world, while he’s in office? Check out their archive of episodes and their swanky website. —Muira McCammon

18. The Lonely Palette

Hearing Tamar Avishai, the host of The Lonely Palette, talk about the transformation of abstraction from being a “democratic rallying cry to a spiritual purification of the mind and soul” was magically clarifying for someone who couldn’t tell you which century Piet Mondrian came out of if my life depended on it. You don’t have to be a fine art aficionado to appreciate this show. What matters is that Avishai’s tenth episode “Piet Mondrian’s Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue (1927)” made me somehow comforted by my ignorance, my lack of art terminology and know-how. This is a podcast that truly lives up to its motto: it does return art history to the masses, one painting at a time. Each and every Wednesday you can be transported to a different era, to a work you probably don’t know—be it Paul Gauguin’s “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” (1897-98) to Richard Serra’s “Torqued Ellipses” (1996). —Muira McCammon

19. The Loving Project

This podcast just might steal your heart. It’s a modern celebration of Loving v. Virginia (1967), the Supreme Court case that declared bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional. This second in the series features an interview with Olivia, a Filipino-American woman, and John, a white guy from Pittsburgh. Olivia talks about adaptation, immigration, and getting flak from other Filipino-Americans. John reflects on his own racial identity and meeting the in-laws. Together, they probe what it means to be American and what the future might hold for biracial children in the United States. —Muira McCammon

20. More Perfect

We’re addicted to More Perfect. We’re praying, hoping, wishing that we’ll wake up and new episodes will magically appear in our iTunes. Its hosts go to great lengths to explains the nuts and bolts of American legal history. They excel at telling the stories of the people, whose cases make it to the Supreme Court. Episodes like Object Anyway tell tales of judicial empowerment; this one digs into how a black man accused of robbery, James Kirkland Batson, fought against race-based jury selection. Tune in if phrases like “totes illegal” turn you on. Kudos to WNYC for providing fantastic supplementary material on the episode’s website. —Muira McCammon

21. Missing Richard Simmons

This show won the Webby for “Best Documentary Podcast.” It’s got some wonderful, wondrous archival footage featuring Richard Simmons. And here’s the best part: you don’t need to know the man to love the show. Maybe you’re an exercise junkie. Maybe you’ve never thought of fitness as fun. Maybe you’re into celebrities and their lives (and afterlives). It took me a long time to understand that it was about love, family, and absence—three things that could take lifetimes to appreciate in full. —Muira McCammon

22. Mouth Time with Reductress

The satirical website Reductress has been on fire for a while now, between its expanding online presence and last year’s excellent book How to Win at Feminism. The latest feather in its cap is the truly marvelous podcast Mouth Time, featuring ‘ladymag editors’ Quenn and Dikoda (Nicole Silverberg and Rachel Wenitsky) who embody with next-level commitment every quality of the media Reductress lampoons. Guests ranging from established celebrities like Aubrey Plaza to exciting new faces like Mary Houlihan and Patti Harrison are all equally comfortable in Quenn and Dikoda’s world, and the result is something special. —Graham Techler

23. The Mutant Season

The Nerdist podcasts recorded at Meltdown Comics in L.A. have made the store a kind of Mecca for comedy nerds. Who better to interview the comedians, writers, actors and other “adults with interesting jobs” than the Boy Prince raised in the heart of it? Gil Letelier, son of Meltdown’s co-founders, has been hosting The Mutant Season since he was like nine years old. Those early episodes are insanely cute, with Gil acting as your pint-sized Pete Holmes. Now thirteen, Gil is a basically a seasoned professional, and The Mutant Season is still going strong, providing insight on its guests’ careers and life from a perspective you wouldn’t expect. —Graham Techler

24. My Dad Wrote a Porno

Jamie Morton’s dad—penname Rocky Flintstone—wrote a porno. Like, a sex-filled, no-holds-barred, NSFW erotic novel, complete with a rather colorful interpretation of anatomy and a lot of questionable business tips. The Belinda Blinked series chronicles the exploits of Belinda Blumenthal, the international sales director at the fictional Steele’s Pots and Pans, as she seduces her way to the top of the famously sexy cookware industry. On her journey, she engages in sexual (not quite sexy, but definitely sexual) encounters with both men and women. Morton recruited two of his friends, James Cooper and BBC Radio 1’s Alice Levine, to react to the novel in real time as he reads it to them across a kitchen table. The result is My Dad Wrote A Porno, an entertaining podcast with a cult following that is well into its third season. —Darby McNally

25. Planet Money

The most assuring guidance to the deregulation fetish sweeping this fine country isn’t found in news print or talking heads, but in the amiable conversation between a group of econ nerds fully aware of how impenetrable their favorite subject is. NPR’s Planet Money is simply an anomaly of entertainment. Though the publicly-funded media org hosts a slew of podcasts tethered to more accessible, fun strata, this nine-year-old production is the most addictive whether you know which side of the ledger to slide your debits and credits. The Planet Money team, including Stacey Vankek Smith, Jacob Goldstein, Robert Smith, Kenny Malone, David Kestenbaum and Ailsa Chang (among many others), takes labyrinth topics of undeniable importance and makes them bar-banter palatable. This year witnessed the hosts sprint through the federal budget in 10 minutes, explain why there aren’t enough women in tech and condense the federal tax reform with a clarity few of the folks who passed it possess. But PM isn’t just a news filter with guests—the team builds weighty, emotional features that demonstrate just how deeply cash flows dictate our lives. The year opened with the tear-doused journey of a man who sued Iran after his daughter was murdered by terrorists on the country’s payroll, and another highlight starred a farmer attempting to stop eagles from decimating his chicken population. The show’s soul converts numbers into narratives anyone can relate to, and it’s well worth the investment. —Sean Edgar

26. S-Town

It’s hard to tell you why I loved S-Town without giving away the plot. But there’s a reason the series has been downloaded more than 40 million times. And that reason’s name is John B. McLemore. The Alabama native contacted This American Life about an alleged murder he wanted them to investigate. New York journalist Brian Reed took the bait and headed down to the town of Woodstock. But what looks to be a repeat of Serial, which producer Julie Snyder also worked on, quickly becomes something entirely else. The friendship between a Yankee journalist and a Southern antique horologist as the former explores the latter’s Shit Town and tries to make sense of McLemore’s singular life in the aftermath of the events of episode makes for a complicated, problematic series that’s not without it’s critics. But it also feels like a completely new kind of creation. —Josh Jackson

27. The Sewers of Paris

Sure. Sure. Listen to the Sewers of Paris, cause the pod has a rad interview with Dan Savage. But, you could also improve your coolness by checking out the killer episode with Drew Gurza, “Where’s the Coming-Out Advice for Somebody in a Chair?” The Sewers of Paris is intimate; it’s a window into the world of gay men, the problems they face, the feelings they have, the world they inhabit. It should be on your docket, not because it’s Parisian (it’s not) but because it brings to the table gems and germs of ideas that might not be on your mind. Also, Matt Baume—the host—is a mad good interviewer. Enough said. —Muira McCammon

28. Still Processing

This show won a Webby for “Best Arts & Culture Podcast.” Not too shabby, right? This is hands down my fave podcast out of The New York Times because it’s witty as hell. Everyone needs a pop culture confession booth, and that’s exactly what this show is. If you’re trying to stay up with the times but don’t necessarily have the time for The Read, add this to your weekly list of listens. Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham are here to bring truth, transparency, and tenacity to our world, and they’re killing it. —Muira McCammon

29. Screw It, We’re Just Gonna Talk About The Beatles

It’s not an official spin-off of Don’t Get Me Started, but if Will Hines could have devoted multiple episodes to his lifelong obsession with the Beatles, it would look something like this. Hines packs each panel with equally knowledgeable and Beatles-manic improvisers and comedians, then goes through the entire catalogue album-by-album. Beyond giving you a renewed appreciation for the scope and depth of the band’s genius, the chronological breakdown of the Fab Four’s personal dynamic leads to some pretty wonderful running jokes at their expense. Not Ringo, though. They won’t hear a word against Ringo. —Graham Techler

30. This American Life

His voice is not the deep baritone of most of his public radio colleagues. The music, clips and questions have a distinct homeyness, and the stories aren’t typically what you’d call newsworthy. Yet Ira Glass’ This American Life, now in its 23rd year, remains one of the most vital, intelligent and delightful radio programs either over the airwaves or downloadable from your podcast provider. Glass and his team spend hundreds of hours each week sifting through story ideas, conducting interviews and transforming it all into a series of narratives based on a theme. The show uses everything from the superficially mundane to the extraordinary and bizarre. The only thing you’ll count on each week is that you’ll hear interesting and unexpected stories and encounter the host’s quirky wit and inquisitiveness. Their most recent episodes (#632 and #633) were the result of eight months of interviews and investigations into the arrival of undocumented workers in Albertville, Alabama, transforming the town from 98% white to 25% Latino over two decades. —Josh Jackson

31. UCB Longform Conversations

Going off BoJack Horseman: If UCB is the Church of Scientology, and the manual is Dianetics, then these guests are… members of Sea Org? I lost the metaphor, but the point is that UCB Longform Conversations has created a kind of oral history of the theatre and offers nuggets of advice from its key players that any student of improv will jump at. Like any good improv scene, it has also morphed and adapted as time goes on—the podcast is currently on a kick where the guest of each episode is the host of the next one, keeping the show as fresh and informative as ever. —Graham Techler

32. Waypoint Radio

Yeah, yeah, we know, games transport us to other worlds. No biggie. No new news there, right? Well, sure. But, over at Waypoint Radio, the hosts are meditating on the future of games, the importance of flossing, and all sorts of shenanigans. In Punching the Gator they improvise a list of games that presidential candidates should play in 2020. It’s chock-full of all sorts of unexpected life advice like how to write a good essay about game culture (hint: take notes!), what to do when the games you love aren’t available in the United States, and whether you should subscribe to the Netflix of games. Want to be a writer? Want to be a gamer? It really doesn’t matter what you want to be; everyone should be listening to this podcast. —Muira McCammon

33. Who? Weekly

Who? Weekly is a pop culture podcast, but it’s probably not for you if you’re looking for information on A-Listers. Those are what hosts Bobby Finger and Lindsey Weber call the “thems” of this world, and honestly, we hear enough about them already. Who? Weekly is for the people who make you think, “…Who?” when you’re casually perusing the tabloids in the grocery line—Rita Ora, Bella Thorne… you get the drift. Finger and Weber’s commentary is smart and quick-witted with a perfectly-proportioned sprinkling of snark, making the podcast truly addictive and thoroughly entertaining. Give it one listen and you’ll be singing along to their theme jingles in no time. —Annie Black

34. With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus

As Lauren Lapkus is a delightful regular on plenty of podcasts, Earwolf’s offer of her own show would have been a no-brainer, except: Lapkus hates hosting. The solution? She becomes the guest each episode, with the actual guest serving as the host—a premise that complicates itself further when you consider the show is different each week, as are Lapkus’s (totally improvised) characters. With Special Guest delivers a nonstop showcase for her unparalleled character work and is an heir apparent to Comedy Bang! Bang!’s insanity. —Graham Techler

35. Wrestling Observer Radio

As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one podcast: Wrestling Observer Radio, featuring Dave Meltzer and Bryan Alvarez. Meltzer has been the premier journalist within the wrestling industry for decades. His weekly Wrestling Observer Newsletter is a must-read for anybody interested in what happens off-screen in pro wrestling or MMA, but his podcasts are probably the best reason to subscribe to his site. Every week Meltzer and his co-host release between three and five episodes, regularly running over an hour each, where Meltzer discusses the news of the day at length and gives his take on the biggest fight shows of the week. This isn’t really a show you listen to for entertainment—although Meltzer regularly steamrolling Alvarez and no-selling his jokes is always entertaining—but for information on a business that has tried to hide itself from outside scrutiny for most of the last century, as delivered by one of the most knowledgeable and best connected observers of the industry. —Garrett Martin

Josh Jackson is editor-in-chief of Paste and host of The Archive podcast, featuring historic interviews with music icons like John Lennon, David Bowie and Bono.

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