We remember Tom Snyder working with Russian students.

http://www.KidsTalkRadioRussia.WordPress.com    We hope you enjoy part of his story below.  
Bob Barboza

The self-destructing game of 1986

How one man brought the first high-stakes games to life.

In the fall of 1963, 13-year-old Tom Snyder arrived home from school to find his front lawn covered with crates from IBM. Snyder could hardly believe his eyes, and he was dying to know what the prestigious company had delivered to his door.

Snyder had spent the preceding months building a computer in his basement, cobbling it together with remnants of electromagnetic switches and electronic wiring he’d found thrown out behind several telephone company offices. Their switch to touch-tone phones was his gain, as the outdated relays provided him with enough circuits and components to build a small, functioning, digital machine. Astounded by their son’s technological prowess, Snyder’s parents coerced him to write what he felt was an insignificant letter to IBM’s then president, detailing his electronic exploits.

Once Snyder cracked open the mysterious crates, he found thousands of dollars worth of outdated computer hardware, along with a short note expressing IBM’s encouragement. “Remember us when you’re older,” the last line read.

With his mind racing, the young Massachusetts native set to work putting together a much more advanced computer, complete with a screen and keyboard. While Snyder delved deeper and deeper into the world of electronics, he fell in love with the concept of creating unique digital entities — things that let him add realism and risk to otherwise fantastical worlds.

Snyder’s love for computers followed him into his adult life and he set about creating his own software development company: Tom Snyder Productions. The company started as a pioneer in the world of educational computer tools and games for classrooms and later on developed cult animated shows like “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist,” “Science Court” and “Home Movies.” If you played around on a classroom computer in the ’80s or laughed at a crudely animated Squigglevision cartoon in the ’90s, chances are you interacted with some of the magic created by Tom Snyder Productions. Though not every project he touched turned to gold, Snyder often attempted to blaze a trail into uncharted territory.

Sub MissionSub Mission: A Matter of Life and Death


While working on educational games in the early ’80s, Snyder decided his company would try its hand at designing and programming mainstream video games for the Atari 5200, Commodore 64, PC and Apple II. Snyder ran his company like a party, hiring former students from his stint as a teacher in the ’70s, as well as skilled waitstaff from around his hometown, encouraging his co-workers to find ideas that were different and alluring.

Sitting in his home office in 2016, Snyder recalls the struggles of trying to fit these epic ideas into small spaces: “You had to go in and trick the processor into doing things even it didn’t know it could do,” he says. “The level of ingenuity was different. Making games now is nothing like the breathtaking terror of doing it on a little computer with a finite amount of space.”

Snyder was well known for balancing useful and popular ideas with unconventional attempts. Completing his more profitable programs, like edutainment classics Snooper Troops and Agent USA, Snyder then turned to the radical new ideas he was dedicated to cultivating. The first of Snyder’s games to grab the attention of the media and the gaming world as a whole was a title called The Other Side.


One of the earliest modem-based games commercially available, The Other Sidewas all about working as a unit to literally build bridges and find natural resources with other countries around the world. The game was such a wild idea in 1984 that NBC asked Snyder to come demonstrate the title on an episode of “The Today Show” with other teams of computer programmers from around the globe showing off The Other Side‘s cooperative functions. Snyder knew he was onto something. People liked the variety, the thrill of something fresh and realistic.

“It was around this time that I was always trying to come up with a different angle that made the stakes of the game higher,” he says. “I was looking for a way to make games more real. Less obsessive and more meaningful.”

Snyder wanted players to put more thought into their in-game actions and not waste their digital lives or precious real-world time. These ideals came from personal experience. Snyder found a game that he himself couldn’t put down: Microsoft Flight Simulator. The legendary simulation software was his addiction for hours on end after work, and one weekend while reading up on the game, he decided to raise the stakes, to add a bit of tangible risk to the world of virtual flying.

The following Monday, Snyder shared his new idea with his wife and employees. He was going to war. He would use his flight simulator skills to cross the German borders and take on World War II adversaries within the game, but should he be shot down three times, he would cut his physical copy of Flight Simulator to shreds. Manually destroying a computer program was a mildly expensive investment for a personal experiment that was destined to end in failure, but Snyder was dedicated to bringing something meaningful and exciting to his gaming experience.


Crossing over into enemy lines wasn’t something mandatory for players to do in Flight Simulator. In fact, Snyder had no idea how skilled the computer-operated German planes would be. He had only ever focused on the flying part of the game and had strayed away from the combat aspects almost entirely. After weeks of preparation, Snyder suited up in an old leather jacket, grabbed a thermos of coffee and alerted his wife that he would “be at war” in the office if anyone needed him.

Within eight minutes, Snyder lost his first plane.

Staying away from the German borders, Snyder decided to practice some of his maneuvers in the safety of allied skies before heading back in. On his second attempt, he lasted over an hour, managing to shoot down various enemy pilots before he took too much damage and crashed into the pixelized German countryside. Feeling more confident in his abilities, Snyder immediately flew back into the war zone but was once again shot down in mere minutes.

“I was dead,” Snyder recalls in a matter-of-fact tone. “I wanted to feel like a true pilot in the Battle of Britain. Nineteen-year-old kids would go up and it was exciting, but if you ‘lost’ during a war you were dead. My penalty was only throwing out $40 of software.” Though saddened by his short-lived war efforts, Snyder felt obligated to follow through with his promise. He made short work of the Flight Simulator disc with a pair of nearby scissors and left his office to inform his wife of his untimely demise.

Tom SnyderTom Snyder


The exhilaration and reality of Snyder’s bizarre Flight Simulator stunt was enough to plant a seed in his mind. He began to synthesize some of his previous ideas about making a title that would heavily challenge players. Snyder set about dedicating a portion of his professional day to work on his new pet project. His employees, while entertained by his previous game-destroying endeavor, were horrified that he wanted to move forward with the idea as a formal title. “While I was designing it, everyone was trying to talk me out of it,” he says. “Everyone. They said, ‘You can’t possibly sell a game like this.'”

Being the founder of a gaming company had its perks, though. Snyder says greenlighting the project wasn’t so much about convincing others it was worthwhile as it was about asserting that it was happening whether they liked it or not.


Influenced by the classic Tom Clancy novel, “The Hunt for Red October,” as well as the Cold War warning video “The Day After,” Snyder modeled the game around nuclear sub battles. Though the game would include realistic and meaningful consequences, Snyder still wanted to create a captivating world that players would want to experience. For this reason, Snyder decided to set his game in the distant future on an uncolonized planet known for its sprawling oceans where an evil alien warlord had kidnapped two earthlings and was holding them against their will. The only hope for these two hostages, dubbed Sigourney and Peter, was to beat the antagonist at his submarine wargames. Snyder felt playing up the romance between the captives would give them more human appeal, causing the player to feel responsible for their well-being.

The hook was that if you failed to save the star-crossed captives, your game would more or less self-destruct, refusing to boot for any future gameplay. To give players a fighting chance, Snyder came up with a system that allowed them to practice their sub skills with a robot in place of the human hostages. This way, players could get a feel for the game and even fail a few times before diving head first into the briny depths. It limited the gameplay, however, giving players the same basic scenarios for victory.

“There were a lot of warnings in the game when things were going wrong,” Snyder says. “Every aspect of the gameplay was built to give players plenty of time to pull back and strategize a new plan of attack.” By choosing a robot over Sigourney and Peter, players didn’t have to worry about their fate, but they’d trapped themselves in what was, more or less, a tutorial.


Once players finally decided to pick one of the humans, the game changed and the stakes became higher. Every time a human-manned sub managed to best the warlord, the on-board hostage would be able to share information about how all protagonists (including the player) could escape the deadly planet and ultimately beat the game. However, if the player chose a human and lost, that human would stay dead indefinitely. If players lost both Sigourney and Peter, the game would void its copyright protection and become nothing more than a $40 drink coaster.

Despite the naysayers, Snyder worked diligently to complete the game, even going so far as to package it with a cassette full of plot narration and instructions. He wanted people to feel immersed in this small world he had created, if only for a while.

Without much trouble, Tom Snyder Productions pitched and sold the game to the highest bidder. The publisher, Mindscape, only bought the game under the condition that it could add a few more safety nets to the title’s staunch approach to in-game death. Mindscape bundled emergency instructions with the game that let players resurrect each of the human captives once before the disc was rendered unplayable. If these extra lives didn’t help, players could fill out a petition to the Space Commissioner in the game’s instruction booklet and send it in (along with seven dollars) for a replacement disc and a second shot.


Launched as Sigourney Loves Peter in early 1986 for the PC and Apple II, Snyder’s game was an immediate flop. It wasn’t the hardcore, high-stakes angle that made it fall short, though. According to Snyder, it was the explicit romance. Turns out, no one in the mid-’80s wanted to play a computer game with a focus on saving two captives in love.

Instead of giving up on the idea, Snyder formulated a plan to change the game’s name and focus more on the “white-knuckle drama” that came with the possibility of losing your disc. The rebranded Sub Mission: A Matter of Life and Deathlaunched the following year and while no one would consider it a mainstream hit, it managed to find a small thrill-seeking audience. The bizarre hailstorm of both praise and criticism Sub Mission received was enough for Snyder to know that he had struck an important chord with the gaming community.

Sub MissionSub Mission: A Matter of Life and Death

Snyder, now 66 years old, has long departed from the gaming industry. Asked to look back at his achievements in the world of game design, he still revels in the delight of bringing such a radical game to the table. Despite its peculiar approach, Snyder’s “high-stakes” title has faded into obscurity over the last 30 years, a forgotten relic waiting to be rediscovered. There have been plenty of games — like Steel Battalion, Upsilon Circuit and One Life — that have pushed the limits of what players could lose, but none seem as foolhardy and meaningful as Sub Mission. Babykayak

Header illustration: Alice Carroll
Photographs: Tom Snyder

Congratulations to Dr. Williams Board Member Honored Nationally

The prestigious Green-Garner Award goes to Dr. Williams our Long Beach Unified School District’s Board Member Was Honored Nationally

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Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education member Felton Williams received the 2017 Urban Educator of the Year award last night at the Council of the Great City Schools’ 61st Annual Fall Conference in Cleveland.

Eleven school board members from big-city school districts competed for the nation’s highest honor in urban education leadership, recognizing in alternating years an outstanding superintendent and school board member from 69 of the largest urban public-school systems in the country.

“I am positively on cloud nine,” Williams said.  “I’m deeply touched and grateful to the Council for this tremendous honor.  While I appreciate the personal recognition, this award also is a reflection of the high quality of our school system in Long Beach and all the hard work of our talented team of educators and support staff, fellow school board members and superintendent, devoted parents, amazing students and exemplary community partners.  I look forward to bringing this award home and sharing it with all of them.”

Urban school leaders applauded Williams during the Council’s annual “Urban Educator of the Year” award banquet, where he received the prestigious Green-Garner Award.

Sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Council, Aramark K-12 Education and Scholastic, Inc., the top prize is presented each year in memory of Richard R. Green, the first African American chancellor of the New York City school system, and businessman Edward Garner, who served on the Denver school board.

Williams has been on the Long Beach Board of Education for more than 13 years, serving multiple terms as president and vice president of the 74,000-student school system’s policymaking body.  He has led efforts to improve student academic performance, including the planning and implementation of the district’s Academic and Career Success Initiative.  He developed a program to increase the number of students of color pursuing Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams, and recommended adoption of an ethnic studies program in partnership with California State University, Long Beach.

The former dean at Long Beach City College earned a master’s degree in business administration at CSULB and a Ph.D. in higher education at Claremont Graduate University, where his professors included renowned business management guru Peter Drucker.

Williams has helped to improve urban education nationally.  He has advocated for the nationally emulated Long Beach College Promise since its inception nearly 10 years ago, when LBUSD, LBCC and CSULB leaders committed to providing all local students specific support needed to prepare for and succeed in college.  He is also the immediate past chair of the Council of the Great City Schools’ Board of Directors.

“Felton Williams has made substantial contributions to urban public education at both the local and national levels,” Council Executive Director Michael Casserly said.  “His passion for equity and excellence has had a profound effect on how all of us serve our urban students.  There could be no one more deserving.”

As the recipient of the 2017 Green-Garner Award, Williams receives a $10,000 college scholarship to present to a student.

“Congratulations, Dr. Williams, on winning the 2017 Green-Garner Award,” LBUSD Superintendent Christopher J. Steinhauser said.  “We can’t thank you enough for everything that you’ve done for our young people.  From the day you stepped on as a board member you’ve been a huge advocate for equity and access for all of our kids, and because of your efforts to lead our initiatives, our district is recognized as one of the best in the nation.”


Dr. Williams has helped the Super School Design Center and Barboza Space Center over the past few years with establishing  our summer fellowship programs at the California Academy of Mathematics and Science High School on the campus of California State University Dominguez Hills.  This is a Long Beach Unified School District high school on  a college campus.

What can you feed your dog on Mars?

The students at the Barboza Space Center are learning about the chemistry of food.

People Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pets

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center Phone Number: (888) 426-4435

Our Animal Poison Control Center experts have put together a handy list of the top toxic people foods to avoid feeding your pet. As always, if you suspect your pet has eaten any of the following foods, please note the amount ingested and contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.

Alcoholic beverages and food products containing alcohol can cause vomiting, diarrhea, decreased coordination, central nervous system depression, difficulty breathing, tremors, abnormal blood acidity, coma and even death. Under no circumstances should your pet be given any alcohol. If you suspect that your pet has ingested alcohol, contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center immediately.

Avocado is primarily a problem for birds, rabbits, donkeys, horses, and ruminants including sheep and goats. The biggest concern is for cardiovascular damage and death in birds.  Horses, donkeys and ruminants frequently get swollen, edematous head and neck.

Chocolate, Coffee and Caffeine
These products all contain substances called methylxanthines, which are found in cacao seeds, the fruit of the plant used to make coffee, and in the nuts of an extract used in some sodas. When ingested by pets, methylxanthines can cause vomiting and diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures and even death. Note that darker chocolate is more dangerous than milk chocolate. White chocolate has the lowest level of methylxanthines, while baking chocolate contains the highest.

The stems, leaves, peels, fruit and seeds of citrus plants contain varying amounts of citric acid, essential oils that can cause irritation and possibly even central nervous system depression if ingested in significant amounts. Small doses, such as eating the fruit, are not likely to present problems beyond minor stomach upset.

Coconut and Coconut Oil
When ingested in small amounts, coconut and coconut-based products are not likely to cause serious harm to your pet. The flesh and milk of fresh coconuts do contain oils that may cause stomach upset, loose stools or diarrhea. Because of this, we encourage you to use caution when offering your pets these foods. Coconut water is high in potassium and should not be given to your pet.

Grapes and Raisins
Although the toxic substance within grapes and raisins is unknown, these fruits can cause kidney failure. Until more information is known about the toxic substance, it is best to avoid feeding grapes and raisins to dogs.

Macadamia Nuts
Macadamia nuts can cause weakness, depression, vomiting, tremors and hyperthermia in dogs. Signs usually appear within 12 hours of ingestion and can last approximately 12 to 48 hours.

Milk and Dairy
Because pets do not possess significant amounts of lactase (the enzyme that breaks down lactose in milk), milk and other dairy-based products cause them diarrhea or other digestive upset.

Nuts, including almonds, pecans, and walnuts, contain high amounts of oils and fats. The fats can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and potentially pancreatitis in pets.

Onions, Garlic, Chives
These vegetables and herbs can cause gastrointestinal irritation and could lead to red blood cell damage. Although cats are more susceptible, dogs are also at risk if a large enough amount is consumed. Toxicity is normally diagnosed through history, clinical signs and microscopic confirmation of Heinz bodies.

Raw/Undercooked Meat, Eggs and Bones
Raw meat and raw eggs can contain bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli that can be harmful to pets and humans. Raw eggs contain an enzyme called avidin that decreases the absorption of biotin (a B vitamin), which can lead to skin and coat problems. Feeding your pet raw bones may seem like a natural and healthy option that might occur if your pet lived in the wild. However, this can be very dangerous for a domestic pet, who might choke on bones, or sustain a grave injury should the bone splinter and become lodged in or puncture your pet’s digestive tract.

Salt and Salty Snack Foods
Large amounts of salt can produce excessive thirst and urination, or even sodium ion poisoning in pets. Signs that your pet may have eaten too many salty foods include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, tremors, elevated body temperature, seizures and even death. As such, we encourage you to avoid feeding salt-heavy snacks like potato chips, pretzels, and salted popcorn to your pets.

Xylitol is used as a sweetener in many products, including gum, candy, baked goods and toothpaste. It can cause insulin release in most species, which can lead to liver failure. The increase in insulin leads to hypoglycemia (lowered sugar levels). Initial signs of toxicosis include vomiting, lethargy and loss of coordination. Signs can progress to seizures. Elevated liver enzymes and liver failure can be seen within a few days.

Yeast Dough
Yeast dough can rise and cause gas to accumulate in your pet’s digestive system. This can be painful and can cause the stomach to bloat, and potentially twist, becoming a life threatening emergency. The yeast produce ethanol as a by-product and a dog ingesting raw bread dough can become drunk (See alcohol).

How can students get creative with STEM to help Puerto Rico?

We are asking students, teachers and others to send their creative ideas and STEM & STEAM++ projects to help Puerto Rico keep their lights on and their water clean enough to drink.   We invited you to visit our new website and see what we have so far.

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Do what you can to keep the conversations and solutions for Puerto Rico going.


How can you help?

Bob Barboza

Barboza Space Center, Kids Talk Radio Science



*STEAM++ (science, technology, engineering, visual and performing arts, mathematics, computer languages and foreign languages.

Who wants to study chemistry?

Chong Liu one-ups plant photosynthesis

New system generates clean energy on the small scale

1:48PM, OCTOBER 4, 2017
Chong Liu

SOLAR STAR Chong Liu, an inorganic chemist at UCLA, has pioneered new approaches to artificial photosynthesis that combine bacteria and inorganic materials.

Inorganic chemist

SN 10 - full list of scientists

For Chong Liu, asking a scientific question is something like placing a bet: You throw all your energy into tackling a big and challenging problem with no guarantee of a reward. As a student, he bet that he could create a contraption that photosynthesizes like a leaf on a tree — but better. For the now 30-year-old chemist, the gamble is paying off.“He opened up a new field,” says Peidong Yang, a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley who was Liu’s Ph.D. adviser. Liu was among the first to combine bacteria with metals or other inorganic materials to replicate the energy-generating chemical reactions of photosynthesis, Yang says. Liu’s approach to artificial photosynthesis may one day be especially useful in places without extensive energy infrastructure.

Liu first became interested in chemistry during high school, and majored in the subject at Fudan University in Shanghai. He recalls feeling frustrated in school when he would ask questions and be told that the answer was beyond the scope of what he needed to know. Research was a chance to seek out answers on his own. And the problem of artificial photosynthesis seemed like something substantial to throw himself into — challenging enough “so [I] wouldn’t be jobless in 10 or 15 years,” he jokes.

Photosynthesis is a simple but powerful process: Sunlight helps transform carbon dioxide and water into chemical energy stored in the chemical bonds of sugar molecules. But in nature, the process isn’t particularly efficient, converting just 1 percent of solar energy into chemical energy. Liu thought he could do better with a hybrid system.

Story continues below graphic

Fake it

artificial leaf diagram

Artificial “leaves” designed by Chong Liu and colleagues collect solar energy to generate electric current. The current splits water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen, and bacteria in the water transform carbon dioxide and hydrogen into fuels or other useful chemicals.

The efficiency of natural photosynthesis is limited by light-absorbing pigments in plants or bacteria, he says. People have designed materials that absorb light far more efficiently. But when it comes to transforming that light energy into fuel, bacteria shine.

“By taking a hybrid approach, you leverage what each side is better at,” says Dick Co, managing director of the Solar Fuels Institute at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Liu’s early inspiration was an Apollo-era attempt at a life-support system for manned space missions. The idea was to use inorganic materials with specialized bacteria to turn astronauts’ exhaled carbon dioxide into food. But early attempts never went anywhere.

“The efficiency was terribly low, way worse than you’d expect from plants,” Liu says. And the bacteria kept dying — probably because other parts of the system were producing molecules that were toxic to the bacteria.

As a graduate student, Liu decided to use his understanding of inorganic chemistry to build a system that would work alongside the bacteria, not against them. He first designed a system that uses nanowires coated with bacteria. The nanowires collect sunlight, much like the light-absorbing layer on a solar panel, and the bacteria use the energy from that sunlight to carry out chemical reactions that turn carbon dioxide into a liquid fuel such as isopropanol.

As a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Harvard University chemist Daniel Nocera, Liu collaborated on a different approach. Nocera had been working on a “bionic leaf” in which solar panels provide the energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Then, Ralstonia eutropha bacteria consume the hydrogen gas and pull in carbon dioxide from the air. The microbes are genetically engineered to transform the ingredients into isopropanol or another liquid fuel. But the project faced many of the same problems as other bacteria-based artificial photosynthesis attempts: low efficiency and lots of dead bacteria.

Bottled up

The bionic leaf doesn’t resemble something you’d find on a tree. Here, wires carry electric current into bottles filled with water and microbes. The electricity splits the water molecules, and then microbes transform the resulting hydrogen into fuel.

bionic leaf setup

“Chong figured out how to make the system extremely efficient,” Nocera says. “He invented biocompatible catalysts” that jump-start the chemical reactions inside the system without killing off the fuel-generating bacteria. That advance required sifting through countless scientific papers for clues to how different materials might interact with the bacteria, and then testing many different options in the lab. In the end, Liu replaced the original system’s problem catalysts — which made a microbe-killing, highly reactive type of oxygen molecule — with cobalt-phosphorus, which didn’t bother the bacteria.

Chong is “very skilled and open-minded,” Nocera says. “His ability to integrate different fields was a big asset.”

The team published the results in Science in 2016, reporting that the device was about 10 times as efficient as plants at removing carbon dioxide from the air. With 1 kilowatt-hour of energy powering the system, Liu calculated, it could recycle all the carbon dioxide in more than 85,000 liters of air into other molecules that could be turned into fuel. Using different bacteria but the same overall setup, the researchers later turned nitrogen gas into ammonia for fertilizer, which could offer a more sustainable approach to the energy-guzzling method used for fertilizer production today.

Soil bacteria carry out similar reactions, turning atmospheric nitrogen into forms that are usable by plants. Now at UCLA, Liu is launching his own lab to study the way the inorganic components of soil influence bacteria’s ability to run these and other important chemical reactions. He wants to understand the relationship between soil and microbes — not as crazy a leap as it seems, he says. The stuff you might dig out of your garden is, like his approach to artificial photosynthesis, “inorganic materials plus biological stuff,” he says. “It’s a mixture.”

Liu is ready to place a new bet — this time on re-creating the reactions in soil the same way he’s mimicked the reactions in a leaf.


C. Liu et al. A fully integrated nanosystem of semiconductor nanowires for direct solar water splitting. Nano Letters. Vol. 13, May 6, 2013, p. 2989. doi: 10.1021/nl401615t.

C. Liu et al. Nanowire-bacteria hybrids for unassisted solar carbon dioxide fixation to value-added chemicals. Nano Letters. Vol. 15, April 7, 2015. doi:10.1021/acs.nanolett.5b01254.

C. Liu et al. Water splitting-biosynthetic system with CO2 reduction efficiencies exceeding photosynthesis. Science. Vol. 352, June 3, 2016. P. 1210. doi:10.1126/science.aaf5039.

C. Liu et al. Ambient nitrogen reduction cycle using a hybrid inorganic-biological system. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. May 2, 2017. doi:10.1073/pnas.1706371114.

High School Students Finding Creative Ways to Help Puerto Rico

Kids Talk Radio Science Helping Puerto Rico

We are calling on students from around the world to help other students in Puerto Rico.  We are looking for your creative ideas to make drinking water safe to drink.  We are looking to use solar energy to to create light and to charge cell phones.

What other ideas do you have?

Visit the new Puerto Rico Website today and you will see what we are starting to do to help fellow students on the island.




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