15 Manly Smells

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 23, 2009 · 266 comments

in Diversions, Travel & Leisure


Smells can conjure up some powerful memories. The smell of pine needles can take you back to childhood Christmases or the smell of a laundry detergent can remind you of home. For me, there are certain smells that I’ve come to associate with manliness. Whenever I smell them I think of my dad or grandpa or some aspect of my boyhood and my initiation into the rites of manhood.

And apparently, I’m not alone. For fun last week, I asked Art of Manliness Facebook Fans and Twitter followers what smells they thought were manly. The response was overwhelming. I decided to pick a few of my favorite responses and make a post out of it. So without further ado, I present 15 manly smells.

Hardware Store


The hardware store is a smorgasbord of manly smells: paint, wood, fertilizer, metal. It’s all there. As a boy, there was a local hardware store that my dad would go to. He’d lug my brother and I along. We’d open up all the drawers for the hinges and nails and play hide-in-seek in the door displays. Like many local hardware stores, it went out of business years ago when the Big Box stores moved in. The building was torn down and replaced with an upscale shopping center. But whenever I drive by the corner where it once stood, I can still smell the manliness that once emanated from that place.

Shoe Polish


The smell of shoe polish is a distinctively manly smell. For many men it conjures up images of brave soldiers shining their shoes to a mirror polish. For me, whenever I crack open a can of Kiwi black shoe polish, I’m instantly transported to my childhood den. About once a month, my dad would pull out his wooden shoe polish kit and take all his boots to the den to polish them. He usually watched In the Heat of the Night or Magnum P.I. while he did it.   The warm smell of shoe polish and leather filled the entire room, and it would usually linger there for an hour after he finished.

Cut Grass


For many men, mowing the lawn is the bane of their existence. But even if you hate the actual chore of mowing the yard, you can’t deny that the smell of fresh cut grass is pretty darn manly. I love the smell of the grass bag as I empty it into a trash can. And I actually quite enjoy how I smell after I mow the yard. It’s a combination of cut grass, gasoline, and body odor. I’ll even delay taking a shower just so I can revel in my manly scent.



I haven’t worked with wood as much as I would like to. But whenever I do, I always try to savor the smell of sawdust. I can remember when I first gained an appreciation of sawdust. It was at that old hardware store I mentioned earlier. Out back, they had a lumber yard, and I remember getting big whiffs of sawdust as I watched the workers saw wood down to size for my dad. The smell of sawdust also brings back the memory of my dad showing me how to sand my first pinewood derby car. Good times.



The warm, rich, smokey smell of an aged scotch whisky. There’s nothing like it. To the first timer, the smell of scotch can be off putting. But once you get past it’s initial pungency, you’ll discover a symphony of smell. Each scotch has its own distinct smell, but they all share some general characteristics. You’ll definitely smell the smokey peat used during the malting process. But if you get in closer, you might catch the subtle fruity smell of apples or cherries. There’s also a hint of licorice, which reminds me of kind old men. Taken together, you’re left with a scent that will put hair on the chest of any man who takes a whiff. Scotchy, scotch, scotch.



I think every man’s affinity for the smell of gunpowder began at some fireworks stand out in the country. That’s where mine did at least. Every Fourth of July, without fail, the parents would take my brother and I to a fireworks stand on an old country road. I can remember being overwhelmed by the smell of gunpowder as we ran up to the stand. After we filled up our paper bags, I would often stick my nose in it and take a nice big whiff. I was smelling danger. And manliness.

The smell of spent gunpowder is just as appealing, too. The smell of spent shotgun shells or the way an area smells after you fire off a round from a pistol is definitely manly.

Original Old Spice

Old Spice.jpg

Go to any men’s section in a department store, and you’ll see a stand selling $60 bottles of cologne with foo fooey scents. Walk into any local drug store and you can find manliness in a bottle for less than 12 bucks. Before they made deodorant, Old Spice was known for it’s cologne. Chances are your grandpa did and still does wear Old Spice. They still make the cologne, but it doesn’t get much play these days, which is a shame. Based purely on anecdotal evidence, women seem to love a man who wears Old Spice cologne. It reminds them of their grandfathers. They’re not hot for their grandpas, obviously, they’re just keen on the smell of old fashioned manliness. When they get a whiff of you sporting Old Spice they’ll instantly associate you with a time when men were men. Quit dousing yourself in Calvin Klein or gassing yourself in a cloud of Axe body spray and get some Old Spice.



It’s sunrise. The sky is still gray with a hint of orange and yellow on the horizon. You go over the fire pit and begin to strategically place dry leaves and small twigs into a tepee shape. You light a match, and watch the leaves smolder. And then it reaches you- the first bit of smoke from a campfire you made all by yourself. You suddenly feel more manly. But the smells don’t stop there. Throw in some maple, pine, or pinon logs and you up the manly smell quotient a few marks.

And the campfire smell stays with you when you go home. It gets in your clothes and in your hair. You never really notice it until you walk into a clean house. The contrast between your smokey smelling self and your antiseptic home gives you one last chance to revel in the manly scent of a campfire, before you watch it get washed down the shower drain.



I love walking into a barbershop. You know why? Because they all smell so damn manly. A barbershop smell is a mixture of Barbicide, shaving cream, musky smelling hair, and cheap (and free) coffee. If you’re going to an old barber shop, it may also smell faintly of tobacco from the days when men would smoke a cigarette and put out their butts in the ash tray on the barber chair arm rests.

Pipe Smoke


Image from Curtis!

Not many men smoke pipes these days, which is a shame because people are missing out on the sweet manly smell of pipe tobacco. Cigarette and cigar smoke can be acrid and obnoxious, but pipe smoke is, well, just pleasant. A whiff of a nice clove or cherry wood blend summons images of kindly older men in tweed jackets sitting in a chair next to a warm cozy fire with an old dog nearby.



Nothing beats the smell of well worn leather. Some of the manliest pieces of clothing and accessories are made from leather- leather jackets, leather boots, leather briefcases, leather saddlebags.  The smell of leather  reminds me of riding horses with my grandpa. I loved walking into the storage area in his barn where he stored all his tack and taking a deep breath. I remember thinking “Man, this is manly.”  And like a fine glass of scotch, leather only gets better with time.

Your Grandpa’s Chair


It seems like every old man has a chair that’s just for him. After years of sitting in it, the seat conformed specifically to the contours of his body and his scent has been permanently stamped into the upholstery. At least that’s how my grandpa’s chair was. That’s him sitting in his chair with me on the left and my little brother, Larry, on the right. One my fondest memories was going to my grandpa’s house in Bosque Farms, New Mexico for Thanksgiving. We’d sit on his lap and he’d hold us in his big strong hands. His chair smelled like the pinion wood he’d burn in his cast iron stove, the barn that he kept his horses in, and the sweat of a man who worked hard even in retirement. In a word, it smelled like pure manliness.

I miss that chair.

Gun Cleaning Solvent


Another ritual my father had when I was growing up was cleaning his government issued gun for his job as a Federal Game Warden. It was usually done on the week nights after dinner. He’d bring his gun cleaning kit to the kitchen table and place a white cloth in front of him on which he’d place his revolver. I was always fascinated by all the different size brushes in his kit. He’d then slowly open up the bottle of Hoppe’s No. 9 gun cleaning solvent. It filled the entire room with a rich, warm smell.

The first time you smell gun solvent it’s pretty jarring, but then you get used to it, and then you start to like it.



I love tearing open a bag of Kingsford and letting that waft of charcoal goodness hit me right in the nose. It’s a smell that tells my mind and body that summer is officially here. But the smell only gets better when you throw a match on them and watch them turn from black lumps of coal to glowing red stones, ready to cook any meat you throw on it.

Bowling Alley


In their heyday in the 1950′s, bowling alleys replaced the fraternal lodge as a place for men to gather and bond. Perhaps that’s why I associate the smell of a bowling alley with manliness. The combination of lane wax, piles of bowling shoes that have been worn by thousands of people, and cigarette smoke mix together to form that distinct bowling alley smell that permeates alleys across the country.

I know there are some other smells that you all think are manly. Share them with us in the comments!

{ 260 comments… read them below or add one }

201 Doug October 10, 2012 at 9:55 am

Pine wood… my Grandpa built furniture, and only used pine.

202 Margie October 10, 2012 at 6:52 pm

My grandpa’s garage, with his old Hudson in it. I don’t know what it is that makes those old garages smell so wonderful.

203 Helen October 22, 2012 at 2:33 pm

I miss that chair too.

204 Hyde November 10, 2012 at 2:54 am

3-in-one oil! The first time you use it to lube a stuck doorknob, you can’t stand it. Eventually you start looking for excuses to reach for the bottle.

205 Paul December 11, 2012 at 11:25 pm

To me there is nothing more manly than the smell of orignal Lifebuoy soap from the 50′s

206 AC January 7, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Why no bacon?

207 Carl H January 7, 2013 at 4:50 pm

A tackle box, with it’s mix of fish-funk, old stink bait, plastic worms and bug juice.

208 Gary Klein January 7, 2013 at 5:10 pm

My dad had a garage/service station. I used to spend most of my days during summer break just hanging out there. The combination of oil, grease, gasoline and other garage smells made a strong imprint in my memories. I find myself feeling nostalgic whenever I take my car in for servicing especially on a warm summer day.

209 james January 7, 2013 at 5:45 pm

Hoppes 9, cigar smoke, and licorice because i clean my guns after a good cigar and drink jeager on the rocks while doing it

210 Dan January 7, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Even though most modern vehicles are lame, new car smell should always be at the top of a man’s list. My fathers 1971 Plymouth Satellite had a mechanical lived-in smell that could never be replicated by anything modern.

Diesel fuel takes me back to my early days in the Coast Guard when I would do my boat checks first thing in the morning. The smell of a locker room takes me back to high school football games and thats probably about as manly a smell as you can get.

Old cars and garages, burning leaves, gun oil, spent ammo shells, old leather gear, horse poop and an old barn all do it for me.

211 Shayan January 8, 2013 at 12:11 am

after rain fall , also called petrichor

212 Nicholas January 9, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Radial aircraft engines – like they would use before and during WWII. The sound of it running excites the deep manly part of me as well.

213 Dutch Miller January 10, 2013 at 5:54 am

Great List! I think good strong black coffee is at the top of my list of favorite smells. Also two smells that remind of my grandfather, a cologne called Pinaud Citrus Musk (which still can be purchased and I use as well) and Wrigley’s Spearmint chewing gum which he always chewed.

214 Austin Butler January 15, 2013 at 4:19 am

WD-40!!!!! Why is that not on here haha, one of the best and manliest smells ever

215 Dillon Colbert February 21, 2013 at 11:36 pm

Austin I absolutely agree. another two are Sandalwood, Vanilla, and Spice, and the smell of freshly roasted, ground, and brewed dark roast coffee.

216 Sol February 25, 2013 at 8:31 am

My dad was a grease monkey. He ran his own business on the side restoring old muscle car engines. While I never quite took to the act with the gusto of my sibling, there are many smells (parts degreaser being a big one) that always remind me of it.

217 Steven March 5, 2013 at 8:59 pm

My dad has been a long-time woodworker and I use to love walking into his shop or the garage when he was applying the finish. The fumes are technically bad for you, but I’ll be damned if there is anyone who doesn’t think it’s a manly, working smell.

218 Seth March 18, 2013 at 9:34 pm

Great article, but I want to encourage you to leave your grass clippings on the yard to let them mulch naturally instead of sending it to a landfill.

219 Robert Frost March 21, 2013 at 1:02 am

Cosmoline is an old grease used as a preservative for military firearms. Nothing beats the smell of the military industrial complex oozing from your steel and walnut rifle.

220 Steve B March 27, 2013 at 10:27 pm

The smell of grease from working on cars, that is what I remember growing up, also the smell of grass from cutting the yard.

221 Tyler April 8, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Nothing gets me like the smell of a running 2-stroke engine. It brings me back to the days of riding dirt bikes and helping my dad cut down a tree for firewood.

222 Matt April 15, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Smell of hot metal. whether it’s a welder cutting down pipe, brass being expelled from a gun or a very hot grill, hot metal is a great smell.

223 Jessy R. April 29, 2013 at 11:04 am

What!? No Lilac Vegetal?

224 Pat May 23, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Good list, some I did not expect. I would add: linseed oil, curing concrete / cement, light machine oil (my Dad worked in a steel mill his work clothes smelled of oil), turpentine, Aqua Velva, to name a few.

225 Don May 27, 2013 at 10:39 am

Vitalis, new car, and (yes) Old Spice original scent. Saw some in the store the other day and picked some up “just for laughs” to be honest, Glad I did.
Also, the smell of the church where I grew up and learned to love “The Man Upstairs.” If I’m any kind of decent man at all, I owe it it Him.

226 Laka June 4, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Gotta tell you, that’s a beautiful picture with you and your grandpa.

227 Mark June 5, 2013 at 8:42 pm

An old tackle box. The smell of the metal on old, worn-out pocket knives mixed with the remains of earthworms on fish hooks just brings me right back to fishing with my grandpa as a young buck.

Also the smell of the blacksmith “shop” at a local historical museum. The smoke from the fire, the hot metal, and the thickness of the air (probably from the smith’s sweat), it just says “Manly.”

228 Em June 8, 2013 at 1:13 am

Brylcreem, WD-40, wood smoke from a stove, and any type of wood shavings all remind me of my grandfather, the most manly man I know. They also meant that I was at his house and about to get spoiled rotten in between carpentry lessons, dismantling pumps and motors for parts or repair, and “Handyman 101″, as long as my grandmother didn’t catch me.
Also, White grease and that unmistakable smell of riding in a combine while harvesting grain always remind me of my dad.

229 Jochen June 20, 2013 at 10:45 am

Bay Rum. Hands down the manliest of smells.

230 Ryan June 30, 2013 at 1:08 am

Crude oil being refined

231 mark July 2, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Coffee and an apple fritter. When my grandfather would visit when I was young, he would always take me with him to pick up donuts for the family. We would each get an apple fritter at the donut shop before going back. He also drank black coffee at all hours of the day (never decaf) til the day he passed, and I associate that strong black coffee smell with him. Quite a man, and truly missed.

232 Ben July 9, 2013 at 1:08 am

Kindly older men in tweed jackets!!! That is one of the best things I have read in a long time. I don’t know what it is, but that sentence just carries the essence of respect, at least for me. Thank you.

233 Walter Sasiadek July 9, 2013 at 11:51 am

Excellent post!

Bacon is the champion smell. I know vegetarians who tell me, “Walter, I haven’t eaten meat in 25 years but the smell of sizzling bacon still makes me hungry.”

Brlycreem, Old Spice, Canoe, autumn leaves, and fresh cider from an outdoor cider ill in Vermont.

I also remember visiting a tobacco shop w/my dad and all the fragrance’s of the 100′s of tobacco’s in large apothecary jars still linger.

234 Steve Davis July 9, 2013 at 8:23 pm

My Dad was a draftsman back when drafting was done WITHOUT the aid of computers. I remember the smell of pencil shavings, eraser crumbs and the odor of blueprints. I miss you Dad.

235 john July 21, 2013 at 8:46 pm

I love the smell of gunpowder and of Hoppes No 9. Too bad my mom and sister get mad when I “Stink Up” the house after cleaning my shotgun.

236 Patrick July 29, 2013 at 4:38 pm

Put this one in the specialty automotive category; this one never ceases to get my blood up: the almost overwhelming smell of burning rubber and nitromethane fuel at the drag strip. One little whiff of that ambrosia takes me back to my junior high school years when I first discovered the top fuelers at Lions Drag Strip in Southern California. Insane noise, unbelievable speed, great columns of belching fire in the night, and that absolutely unique and intoxicating smell.

237 Vas August 1, 2013 at 2:37 am

Old Spice smell.. Keeps bringing me old memories

238 Dovahkiin August 11, 2013 at 12:51 am

Hopped number 9 is definitely the best.

239 Krista August 13, 2013 at 5:14 pm

Hi everyone. I think the best manly smell in the whole world in the “classic car smell.” Unfiltered gas fumes, vinyl, and steel (although steel has no smell by itself per se) is WONDERFUL. As a woman who loves classic cars, it is not just something that I personally like but it is also closely related to the memories I have of different men in my life whether they be old boyfriends or my grandpa or dad. Nothing like it in the world :( All I have to do is get into an old car, inhale, and I feel happy.

240 Richard August 17, 2013 at 11:26 am

My Dad owned a paving company and was a heavy-duty mechanic. He had the demeanor of Johnny Cash, the look of James Dean, and the brain of Einstein, and just as tormented.

He hunted Deer on the prairies with his brothers every year. He smoked at least a pack a day. He paved roads with asphalt and tar, he grinded metal, welded, fixed greasy engines with greasy tools, when finished washed his hands in gasoline, (He had the manliest hands! Even “clean” they were ground with grease, and callused he could, and did reach into a camp fire to move a log, not lie!)

He drank rum. He showered once a week, but at the end of the day splashed himself with his favorite scent Aqua Velva. Combine all of the scents above, and for me that is the manliest smell ever.

241 Earl October 1, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Copenhagen long cut tobacco.

242 Jordan October 3, 2013 at 1:33 am


243 cheezwiz October 3, 2013 at 11:02 pm

most manly smell i can think of is the way my junk smells after I go to the gym: musky sweat / bleach

244 Andrew October 15, 2013 at 8:27 pm

I always loved the Smell of Hoppe`s #9. When I was a wee lad, I`d go to clean my gun, and my Brother would either have to exit the room, or annoy me into opening a door or window so he could escape the “Noxious fumes”. He seriously thought they could be toxic, what a lightweight!

245 Chad October 23, 2013 at 3:28 pm

It’s hard to argue with most of these smells, however there are a few more worth mentioning, and they all remind me of my grandpa who was a farmer. Freshly cut grass is great, but it’s even better if there is was a lot of clover in the yard. The earthy aroma of a freshly plowed field is a singular experience, and every bit as satisfying as mowed grass. Also, while not altogether pleasant, when the air is ripe with the iron-rich smell of blood from an animal being butchered, you know you are witnessing something primal and manly.

246 the masculine Mr. Flenley October 25, 2013 at 2:45 am

I purchased some Giorgio Armani cologne spray today and the woman who sold it to me said it had a strong, manly aroma.
I must put some behind both ears when I put my suit on, on Halloween night when I cosplay British secret agent 007 James Bond

247 Tom November 1, 2013 at 10:52 am

A roofer by trade, my grandfather was lean and muscular with a chiseled, deep-tanned face from working in the sun. His eyes always sparkled and had a broad smile with perfect white teeth.

He smoked a pipe and I loved the heavenly smell. He would let me sit on his lap as he filled his pipe. When he opened the tobacco pouch he held it under my nose so I could sniff the pleasant scent.

After a hard day’s work shingling roofs, he removed the tar from his hands with kerosene. Then, in the bathroom, he scrubbed any stubborn tar from his fingernails and the crevices of his knuckles with Boraxo powdered hand soap. This was always followed by washing up with pine tar soap.

The combined smell of pipe tobacco, a hint of kerosene, Boraxo, and pine tar soap on my grandfather was the epitome of masculinity to me!

Whenever I smell any of those aromas I’m instantly transported back to my childhood and wonderful visits with my grandfather.

Thank you for your great article and the trip down memory lane!

248 Paul November 10, 2013 at 8:47 pm

-Baseball glove
-”old-school” personal hygiene items(Clubman, Aqua-Velva..note, I’m looking forward to trying Bay Rum before long)
-pipe tobacco(my Dad’s as I was “becoming” a man)

249 Catrin November 15, 2013 at 6:35 am

I am loving these comments positive about Dads. Dads play a special part in our lives if we are lucky enough to have them there. Dads give you your self confidence and self esteem in most cases. And also your own sense of your masculine self. My favourite smell is the smell of grass clippings when he mowed the lawn. I have a good Dad and I am grateful for that.

250 Kamran Eusuff November 22, 2013 at 12:01 pm

many others i could think of like……..Vintage Merc n Vintage BMW, Fuels like Gasoline, diesel, Kerosine, Turpentine, Coal Tar; Old Chesters n Almirahs, Old documents n currency, Fishery Ports n harbors, engine compartments n generators, power tools n heavy machinery, steamboats n ships, junkyards n scrap, ………….stop me….:)))

251 Paul 'Spike' Reddington December 18, 2013 at 6:05 am

The inside of a pinball machine.

I have 9 of these blasts from the past and for me, the pungent mixture of overheated electrical wiring, dust from the coils, stale tobacco smoke, beer spilt inside the cabinet and plywood takes me back to the arcades of yesteryear!

252 A.T. Post January 4, 2014 at 5:09 am

Avgas…or 100 Low Lead aviation fuel. Or heck, let’s just go with the interior of a small airplane. Leather jackets, upholstery, Plexiglas, cigarette smoke, old carpet, worn rubber, and aviation fuel. I worked as a drone-chaser in the Mojave Desert and my bosses were all retired Navy/Air Force squadron commanders. I always associate flying with them with those smells, and with manliness: coffee, toast, eggs and bacon for breakfast, pre-flight inspections, kicking tires, oil and fuel levels, engine run-ups, and expert aerial maneuvers.

253 Cable January 14, 2014 at 9:05 am

My favorite thing to do after taking my motorcycel out for a brisk morning ride is to grab a mug of dark coffee. that earhtyness combined with the sharp scent of gasoline and worn leather left on my hands makes the coffee 2x as good.

254 Craig January 15, 2014 at 6:49 am

Has anyone mentioned Brylcreem?

Love that smell. I wear Old Spice almost every day. My grandfather did too.

255 CARLOS January 20, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Diesel from semi/tractor/truck exhaust..leather..hay..all on my favorites list.

256 Phil Harding February 3, 2014 at 8:42 am

How about the smell of chili?! And along with pipe smoke, how about the smell of a good cigar, both itself, and the smoke?!

257 Kevin February 3, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Coal burning in a blacksmith’s forge… No other smell like it.

258 John February 5, 2014 at 6:42 am

I can still remember how my Dad smelt when he came home from work! he owned a Barber shop with in walking distance from our house, actually right down the block! when he walked into the door the mixture of shaving cream hair tonic and probably sweat would be in the air! I loved it because smelling that in the air confirmed he was home for the night to watch cowboy shows on TV with me! and variety shows when my Momn got done with the dishes! such great memories! those were simple but rewarding days of my childhood! My dad passed away when I was only 16 he was only 64! but I feel like I just saw and smelt him yesterday! as far as my Mom goes she after a while lived with my wife and I until her death! she lived until 89 beautiful years, 5 months short of her 90th Birthday,after she passed away what gave me comfort was the smell of the chair she practically lived on! I couldn’t give it up to my niece who is her 1st granddaughter for a while! who wanted it to remind her of her Grandma! so you see smells make up a good part of our lives past and present and also our memories!! Thank You for reading this! I hope it brought back past memories and smells of you own!…. John

259 Chris March 9, 2014 at 1:58 am

Vitalis, Musty basements.

260 Dale April 7, 2014 at 12:32 am

I never knew my dad and have never met the man, so I suppose I associated my own nostalgic manly scents from being around my surrogate “uncles” and other men who ade an impression on me. The smell of a shop is manly. Whether it be automotive, wood, metal, plastic, leather – it’s all manly to me. When I was young, I was intimidated by all of this -te noise, the swear words, and she scents. Today, even a common home garage is manly smelling. Gadoline, oil, solvents, paints – the smell of stale cigarette smoke and old sweat takes me back to a time to when I was figuring out for myself what it meant to be a man. The smell of a weight room is also manly – the smell of iron and grease mixed with sweat, as well as the smell of a dojo or boxing gym. Dirty socks and more old sweat mixed with the scents of blood and fear are all things I associate as manly smells. To this day, I’m most comfortable in a shop environment when it comes to work – it smells like money, success and an honest day’s work. I’m blessed to have a thirteen year-old son who looks up to me and I wonder what sorts of smells he’ll associate with me. Perhaps the musty old smell of camping gear when you take it out for the first trip of the year, or maybe camp fire or the smell of oil-based paint I use when making signs in my shop. While I’m not a hunter, my wife tells me that my trucks always smell like a “huntin’ rig” inside and it takes her back to when she would go hunting with her father. I’m glad I figured out for myself the things it takes to be a man, and while I’m still figuring things out, I can only hope that I make a positive impression on my son as to what it takes to be a man. And if some of that means to smell like an old oil-soaked rag, I feel that I’ve at least, in-part, created fond memories for him of growing up around a man that truly loves him and the man he will become.

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