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if p < 8 p = 9 end

Seems unambiguous to me. In Lua, "p < 8" is an expression that's not a function call, so it can't be a statement. Likewise, "p = 9" is an assignment, so it can't be an expression. Moreover, Lua never allows two expressions next to each other, except in the case of a function call whose sole argument is a string literal or table constructor; in that case, the second expression (the function argument) could not be mistaken for a statement.