Bo tree meditator / WED 5-15-24 / Bondservant, often / Brewer's implement / Brownish-red shade / Blind, to a duck

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Constructor: MaryEllen Uthlaut

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: HAPPY B-DAY (57A: "Best wishes for your once-a-year celebration!" (and a wish for solvers of this puzzle) — theme answers have multiple "B"s in them and all the clues start with "B":

Theme answers:
  • BUMBLEBEE (17A: Buzzer you wouldn't want to hit?)
  • BABY BOTTLE (25A: Breast milk container)
  • BASEBALL BAT (35A: Brewer's implement)
  • BUBBLE BATH (48A: Blissful soak)
Word of the Day: COCKLES (12D: Bivalve mollusks) —
cockle is an edible marine bivalve mollusc. Although many small edible bivalves are loosely called cockles, true cockles are species in the family Cardiidae.

True cockles live in sandy, sheltered beaches throughout the world. The distinctive rounded shells are bilaterally symmetrical, and are heart-shaped when viewed from the end. Numerous radial, evenly spaced ribs are a feature of the shell in most but not all genera (for an exception, see the genus Laevicardium, the egg cockles, which have very smooth shells).

The shell of a cockle is able to close completely (i.e., there is no "gap" at any point around the edge). Though the shell of a cockle may superficially resemble that of a scallop because of the ribs, cockles can be distinguished from scallops morphologically in that cockle shells lack "auricles" (triangular ear-shaped protrusions near the hinge line) and scallop shells lack a pallial sinus. Behaviorally, cockles live buried in sediment, whereas scallops either are free-living and will swim into the water column to avoid a predator, or in some cases live attached by a byssus to a substrate. (wikipedia)

• • •

This is a substandard puzzle. I feel bad saying this, but this just does not meet minimum requirements for thematic inventiveness or fill quality. Where to start? First, the theme, which isn't a theme at all, really. There are answers that are two-word (or two-part), where both parts start with "B" ... and then there's another "B" in there ... but then one time (BUBBLE BATH), there's two other "B"s in there ... so what? There's just not enough tightness to the theme. The number and placement of the "B"s is arbitrary. And there are other, non-thematic "B"s in the grid, stray "B"s in CRAB and BRUNO and AEROBE and such. You'd think if you were gonna make a "B" puzzle you'd have something to focus or anchor you, some parameters, some limits, *something*! But no, it's just "I dunno, a bunch of 'B's?" It's grim. To make matters worse, the theme answers are actually boring (there's a "B" word for you). You could've had BARN BURNER or BURT BACHARACH or god knows how many other answers, but instead we get this plodding set of very basic and not terribly colorful answers. But the main problem is the basic concept—there isn't one, or isn't enough of one. And then there's the clues. Truthfully: I did not notice that they all started with "B"s until I was finished with the puzzle and marking it up for blogging purposes. So that part of the theme was invisible, which is really the best thing I can say about it. Seriously, that you got me *not* to notice this feature is a feat. It should've made solving the puzzle awkward and painful, forcing this kind of severe and joyless limitation on it. But the constructor and editors managed to clue everything with "B" phrases *and* make the solving experience almost bump-free and natural-feeling. Good work there. But again, it was an idea that had no real merit in the first place. A self-imposed restriction. Why? That is the question. 

Then there's the fill, which took this puzzle from innocuous and bland to somewhat painful. This grid is a crosswordese tutorial. They brought ALEUT out of retirement and everything. ERE ÉTÉ EER? Yes, all three! TOGAS and BAHTS, a PAS d'ETUDE. Was it ... AESOP with the AEROBE in the ARAL? It was! (I'm pretending the puzzle is a game of Clue now, just for self-amusement purposes). The grid just TEEMS with tired fill. Then there's the severely improbable ASHIEST and the borderline unbearable "BE ME" (a partial not even BUDDHA could love) (25D: Bieber's "That Should ___"). 

Occasionally, the "B" gimmick in the clues led to some solving difficulty. [Big name is D.C.] was a very vague way to come at KAMALA, and [Blind, to a duck] was an unexpected way to come at RUSE. But sometimes the "B" gimmick led to clever misdirection like [Brewer's implement] for BASEBALL BAT ("Oh, the Milwaukee Brewers!"), and sometimes it imparted interesting trivia (see [Bo tree meditator] for BUDDHA and [By the 1980s, this sea had become two lakes] for ARAL). Oh, and the "B" clues also function as vocabulary builders. Bondservant! Beldames! I can't believe I'm actually more interested in this dumb cluing conceit than I am in anything happening in the grid, but here we are! And here I go, off to coffee and cats and Quordle (also Wordle, but that doesn't alliterate). See you all next time.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Facebook]


Conrad 5:44 AM  

I liked it a lot more than @Rex did. My hang-up was in the NE, where I happened to remember DECCA (9A), which gave me ETE (10D). But then at 16A I couldn't decide between ETHic and ETHOS, and somehow totally blanked on BEECHwood aging (19A) and thought Budweiser was aged in cEdar. I also thought that biathletes needed a gun, which they do, but they also need a SKI (23A). Or SKIs. Aside from that the puzzle played easy, so overall a solid Medium for me.

Hal9000 5:49 AM  

Surprised to see Rex designate the puzzle as “Easy” and to hear him trash it. I usually finish Weds in 8-9 min and this one took me 12, so a little more resistance than usual (that’s a good thing). And while some of the fill is tired crosswordese (+ I hate ASHIEST), I think HAPPY BDAY is not a bad revealer, at all.

It’s not a hall of fame puzzle by any means but a workmanlike Wednesday, for me.

Danny 5:59 AM  

Bach did not compose any etudes. At least not that we know of.

David Grenier 6:07 AM  

I found this difficult for a Wednesday. Maybe because so many of the full answers were crosswordese I haven’t internalized yet. More likely because my dog woke me up at 5am and I’m not really firing on all cylinders yet.

Played myself putting MIGHT in for MIDST after not carefully reading the clue. Also nothing in the NE corner would come to me.

I didn’t mind the theme the way Rex did but I was expecting to have something “day” related be involved. Like abbreviated of days in each theme answer (is that even possible?). Or the puzzle having exactly 15 B’s in it as this is running on the 15th. But I was just overthinking the revealer.

I liked the Brewer’s clue and the Burns book. I assume Robbie Burns has a book called POESY? Also liked the clue for POUNCE because anything that makes me think of cats makes me smile. 😀

Adam 6:11 AM  

I thought it was Medium at best, but my time is below my average, so there you go. I also didn't notice the B cluing until @Rex mentioned it, and thought the same thing about the stray Bs in the grid after finishing. ASHIEST is pretty bad, but overall I enjoyed the experience more than @Rex did.

John 6:30 AM  

OFL’s comments not withstanding: Today is actually my birthday! So when I got to the revealer, my pulse raced and I thought: “Best. Puzzle. Ever!”

Anonymous 6:34 AM  

I was able to solve this puzzle in half my usual time, so I agree that it was very easy. I also benefitted from the old standard clues (aleut, aral, etc.) because I have them memorized from 50 years of solving. I didn't hate the theme as much as Rex, but I didn't love it either. All in all, a pleasant experience.

Andrea 6:47 AM  

I didn't love this puzzle, except that it is my actual BDAY, and so for a minute I thought NYT had a special birthday puzzle they'd let you play on your birthday and I was excited to get to play two. 😂

Anonymous 6:50 AM  

I didn’t realize until I read this post that the clues all start with Bs. Presumably that’s very obvious in print, but less so online. If you’re going to do wacky clues, I prefer the puns and wordplay sorts. This wackiness is like grid art wackiness: a cool challenge for the constructor, stiltedness for the solver. Otherwise seemed a run-of-the-mill puzzle. I spent an embarrassingly long time wondering why Justin Bieber would have a song called “That Should Beme.”

SouthsideJohnny 6:57 AM  

Rex focuses on the theme quite a bit, so that influences is evaluation of the puzzle quality - I prefer puzzles like this one where you can ignore the theme and just go at it. I misspelled COCKLES and had no idea on CRONES so I messed up the NE pretty badly, but that’s on me and fine for a Wednesday.

So far it’s been a pretty good week. Hopefully they won’t give us some overly cryptic gimmick puzzle tomorrow that looks like it just landed from another planet.

Anonymous 7:18 AM  

Octordle is where it’s at- especially rescue.

kitshef 7:22 AM  

Hand up for not noticing the B clues until post-solve, which is impressive.

I have no problem with the non-themer Bs in the grid; quite the reverse. If your theme is B-day go ahead and cram as many as you can in there.

Clue for BRA was a great mystery, but crosses were easy.

KABOB always makes me lose a little time, I default to KeBaB (while realising that the spelling is variable).

Anonymous 7:25 AM  

I did not—until coming here—realize that all of the clues began with “B.” I did, however, that the clues felt tortured and made me feel progressively more exhausted the longer I slogged through the puzzle.

I think this is the second time this year we’ve gotten exactly this conceit, and I cannot say enough bad things about this kind of “theme” cluing. It is not clever, it is not hard to do, it’s not enjoyable for anyone. It’s very hard to write good, fair, clever, and fun clues. It’s trivial to write horrible clues around a stupid gimmick.

P.S., every sentence in the above begins with an “I,” because this gimmick is ill-advised.

Anonymous 7:36 AM  

This puzzle took me 2-3 times as long as my usual Wednesday time. I didn’t even notice all of the clues started with B since I was staring at the grid thinking “how is this a theme?”. Now that I’ve red Rex’s write-up, I’m left with the same question.

Lewis 7:37 AM  

I like the day-of-birth echo in the grid, with the theme, with [Bears, as a child] for HAS, with the BABY of BABY BOTTLE, and with USA, which brings to mind “Born in the USA”.

I like the fact that MaryEllen takes her time with her puzzles, with her debut in 2010, followed by puzzles in 2014, 2020, and today.

I like the cross of BATH and BAHT.

I like the words GUST, RUSE, TEEMS, POUNCE, and COCKLES. The latter made me think of “Warms the cockles of my heart”. I haven’t thought of “Warms the cockles of my heart” in a long time, and remembering it did just that!

What I liked most of all about this puzzle is how MaryEllen totally snookered me. After solving, I had no idea about the clues all beginning with the same letter until coming here. I mean, look at that clue list and how obvious those starting B’s are! Yet it went right over my head. That takes high skill in clue writing. I was totally outplayed, and I love being outplayed like that.

MaryEllen, thank you for that and for a puzzle that gave me so much to like. Given how you take your time, I don’t know when I’ll see your next puzzle, but I look forward to it!

Son Volt 7:38 AM  

I don’t like the spurious Bs either - but the fact that all clues begin with B is nifty I guess. The theme is highly restrictive and the fill suffers. Rex highlights the ugly stuff - and there’s more.

Bad Brains

Not one - but two WH references. RETYPE + REUNITE. Did like the CHESTNUT - COCKLES stack.

Funky little Wednesday solve - we deserve a little more nuance midweek.

In Dublin’s fair city

Bob Mills 7:40 AM  

Nice puzzle with a basic theme that helped in several places. The NE was a brief trouble spot for me, because I couldn't decide between ETHOS and "ethic."

The clue for BASEBALLBAT was a terrific misdirect. Non-fans of baseball might not identify with the Milwaukee Brewers. The clue for ASHIEST is questionable, I could ASHY be more pale than something colorless?

elderly pedant 7:42 AM  

Bach's exercises are not etudes. They are inventions.

pabloinnh 7:43 AM  

Saw the double B thing after two themers and was thinking "there are lots of B's in this one" as I solved but totally missed that each clue started with a B, probably because I was going too fast to notice. BRUNO and BEME were the only two WTF's and everything else was pretty much "read clue, write in answer". BASEBALLBAT was an OK misdirect, probably because I don't think of a BAT as "equipment".

Haven't seen old friend NICAD in a while. Where ya been?

OK Wednesdecito, MEU. Making Exceptional Use of B's is impressive, but as OFL points out, not terribly interesting. Thanks for a reasonable amount of fun, and I'll give this one a B.

Anonymous 7:44 AM  

I hated it. Also, *bach etudes are not a thing*. Etudes are primarily a 19th century phenomenon— Chopin, Liszt, Paganini, etc. Lazy and sloppy.

PaulyD 7:45 AM  


Would have been faster if I could type better. That said, this was anodyne - can't muster any disappointment over it and I REALLY enjoyed BREWER'S IMPLEMENT. Of course, any baseball reference brings a smile when your team is 30 - 13. Sweep the Mets!

SusanA 8:04 AM  

Because I saw all the B clues early, it did inform my themer solving a wee bit.
But the NE gave me unusual grief for a Wednesday because I’d no idea what Beldame was, an archaic that deserves its fate IMO. Butted heads with Mussels or Credo instead of COCKLES and ETHIC.
Blew my virtual brains out over POESY not Poems, except I was certain about LSAT, which ultimately saved my Butt.

By the end, overall, I give kudos to the NYTXW team for trying some new ideas; Boring otherwise.
Bye now.

JonB3 8:06 AM  

I'm having a tough time trying to connect the revealer with the theme answers. Yes, they all start with and contain 3 or more "B"s but they don't reflect anything happy or refer to any day. First thought the theme had something to do with BBs (ammo) but there were too many "B"s to make that connection.

PH 8:11 AM  

Easy. Puz was fine. Simple themers avoided a long list of BB PPP.

Bill Burr
Bob Barker
Betty Boop
Barry Bonds
Barbara Bush
Ben Bernanke
Benazir Bhutto(13)

"Come to Homer's BBBQ, the extra B is for BYOBB."
"What's that extra 'B' for?"
"That's a typo."

andrew 8:20 AM  

Am glad that Rex and others didn’t initially see all the B clues either.

We got B SCHOOLed!

(Did learn a couple new words but otherwise Monday-level stuff.)

SouthsideJohnny 8:29 AM  

Today Rex commented: “First, the theme, which isn't a theme at all, really.” For the curious among us, try today’s LAT/WaPo offering. Or better yet, just open up the grid on line, click on reveal all, check out the reveal and attempt to discern the theme. I think it will take those of you with Rex/Lewis solving chops to get it. I’ve done a fair number of puzzles myself, and today’s WaPo is about the minimal amount of effort you can put into something and still technically call it a theme. I’d be curious if others think I am way off the mark with my observation.

Anonymous 8:48 AM  

Oof, the NE got me. No idea about BEECH, never heard the word “beldames” before so there was no way I was gonna get CRONES. Also never heard the word “bondservant” but it sounded like an old term for like a butler or something so I was never gonna get DEBTOR. I speak French so knew ETE, but CHESTNUT clued as a color went right past me, COCKLES just eluded me without any crosses, and the clue for ASHIEST is suspect at best. And coming here I learned that all the clues start with B, which would be why the cluing here sunk me. Not fun, DNF.

Anonymous 8:50 AM  

Could someone please explain the clue for RUSE? Was hoping Rex would, but I’m still lost on why a duck being blind equals a RUSE?

Greater Fall River Committee for Peace & Justice 8:51 AM  

Hmmm, Etude is a French word, BACH was German. I suppose some French editions of the Inventions and Sinfonias might call them etudes, I dunno. It wasn't til I got here and found out that all the clues start with 'b' that I understood why he would use Bach as an example of an etude-writer. I suppose 'Bertini exercise' would have been too obscure. But, um, WHEELHOUSE!

I see biathletes need one SKI. Somehow I suspect the good ones have two.

RooMonster 8:53 AM  

Hey All !
HAPPY BDAY, if it happens to be yours today. Anyone famous have a BDAY today?

Got a laugh out of seeing BARBECUE spelled out completely. Hardly ever see it like that. Actually put a Q where the C was.

Would've been neater of no other B's in the grid, but what are you gonna do. The puz was published, after all.

Also didn't notice all the clues started with B. How is that even possible? There should be a name for a phenomenon like that. Brain eliding, or somesuch.


Anyway, Happy Wednesday.

No F's (*SWEARS*) Har.

Anonymous 8:57 AM  

POESY threw me too. Knew it had to be right but didn’t know why. But I just looked it up and it’s a term for a volume of poetry.

Judge Morgan 9:06 AM  

It took me 79 years to learn the word "posey." So, thanks. I also think it was more fun constructing than solving.

Anonymous 9:18 AM  


Mary McCarty 9:57 AM  

@ANONYMOUS at 8:50: a duck blind is a hiding place for hunters

Anonymous 9:59 AM  

I could’ve written this comment - exactly the same experience for me on all counts.

Adrienne 9:59 AM  

Happy birthday to everyone who got greeted with this special NYT honor today! It's also my brother's birthday, and I got very excited on his behalf.

I fully missed all the B clues until reading Rex's writeup. Made a lot of wonky cluing make more sense, suddenly.

Sioux Falls 10:01 AM  

@Southside Johnny: Just did the WaPo/LAT puzzle and agree the theme was incredibly weak… I figured there was a chemical symbol involved when I got the revealer… but had to Google to figure out what the symbol was. I think it would be nearly impossible to suss the theme while solving top to bottom.

SPOILER ALERT: There are also occurrences of A and G in non-theme answers.

Unrelated comment: don’t love that they highlight the theme answers in every puzzle

PalomarPuzzler 10:02 AM  

Anon 8:50 - a duck blind (also called a “hide”) is where duck hunters sit, concealed, waiting for ducks to fly over.

Anonymous 10:08 AM  

If you solve on the phone app, the clue-start gimmick is virtually invisible. On paper, sure, but it was wasted on anyone who uses the app in normal, one clue at a time, mode.

Nancy 10:10 AM  

Wow! This can't have been easy to pull off. The cluing part, I'm talking about. And it's done here SO smoothly, that I didn't even notice that all the clues began with a B until I hit the HAPPY B-DAY revealer.

Now either that's very adept cluing or a very myopic and unobservant solver. In my case it's both.

And while I tend to dislike a great many stunt puzzles, I really like this one a lot. Nothing is tortured or distorted. Everything works. Which is amazing, when you think about. If you doubt what I'm saying, try this exercise. Take a NYT Wednesday grid from the recent past at random. Try to clue every entry with a clue beginning with a B. You'll probably give up by 5A. I'm sure I would. Very nice job, MaryEllen.

Kevin Uy 10:19 AM  

I don't think self-imposed limits are necessarily a bad thing. If done correctly, they can lead to some creative outcomes, as evidenced by some of the clues you highlighted.

jberg 10:20 AM  

Like everyone else, it seems, I didn't notice that the clues all started with B. I thought the revealer just meant there were a lot of Bs in the puzzle, which there are. Less excusably, I didn't even notice the theme answers.

The puzzle did have some nice features. Two Scots poets; EER and ERE together at last, POESY.

Some minor nits: Biden does have advisors, but that's not what the CABINET does. Those folks all run departments, and have some independent legal authority to do that. Some of them give advice now and then; others can't even get in to talk to the President.

And the ETUDES thing. I had the same reaction as several others. But to be fair, in Bach's day people generally translated everything into the language they were using at the time, so if we were speaking French we might well refer to an etude by Bach.

The hardest part for me was KABOB. I looked at the clue, thought, "hmmm... it could be KeBaB but then again it might be KeBap," so I filled in the KeBa ane waited for crosses. That took some time to get sorted.

As others have said, you have to admire the constructor's skill in writing all these B clues without making them so awkward that I looked to see what was going on.

Whatsername 10:28 AM  

Blah. There’s another B word. I could see the clue conceit immediately so there wasn’t much in the way of curiosity or mystery or surprise and certainly no aha moment. I do have to say that the reveal was nice and I loved the Brewer reference for BASEBALL BAT.

I noticed the discussion about ETUDE and don’t know much about that, but did notice an inaccuracy at 2D/big cats do this.” Not really true because everyone knows all cats POUNCE. Just kidding. BEECH reminded me of a long ago high school mate who may very well have been the original inspiration for the word “nerd.” He was gangly, pimply, had a crew cut and somehow thought that it would make him less nerdy if he memorized the label on a beer can - Budweiser, of course, being the beer of choice in the Midwest since long before those dark ages. Anyway, he would recite the words to anyone who would listen or anyone who was within earshot, not listening. He was also extremely smart and went on to become a doctor who accomplished great things in cancer research only to sadly, die of cancer.

Carola 10:31 AM  

I liked it - the BUMBLE BEE corner led me to believe it was going to be a fast Wednesday, but wait, not so fast....what's a "Bondsman?" (first guess: DEputy)...and a bivalve mollusk? So, not so easy after all, and I liked having to get to work. Then there was the great clue for BASEBALL BAT and the post-solve surprise, thanks to @Rex, of the clues all starting with B. And here I'd been scratching my head over Bondsman, bivalve, and beldames and remaining oblivious. Great fake-out! (I guess those "Bach" etudes should have rung some ALARM bells, too.) While I did notice @Rex's ERE, ARAL, et. al., what stood out to me more were the pleasures of CHESTNUT, COCKLES, POUNCE, RUSE, CRONES. Happy day, yes.

Anonymous 10:35 AM  

I agree totally

cher b 10:37 AM  

came here for answers to this, surprised that not much has been said about it??

johnk 10:43 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nancy 10:46 AM  

Yay!!! It's not just me. Some of the most experienced and visually observant solvers on the blog missed the clues-beginning-with-a-B trick until the very end too. @Lewis and @Pablo and @Kitshef and more. And while you might expect me not to notice, you would never expect them not to notice.

This underscores what I was just saying: the cluing, in spite of the severe limitations involved, is incredibly smooth and natural.

Trina 10:53 AM  

Happy birthday Andrea and John!

Gary Jugert 10:55 AM  

Well, that's a lotta Bs. It's a pleasant enough puzzle. I missed the Bs in the clues (one of the downsides of the app), but the Bs in the theme helped me answer two of the others.

Thoughts on all those Bs: Most of us are substance over style people unfortunately. We watch the news instead of reading a poem. All those Bs are stylistic, almost flamboyant, and serve no meaningful purpose to the game and rankle 🦖. And yet, there's a brash elegance -- a decorative forest on a misty snow-capped mountain in which to slay our enemy. There's a pretty high likelihood I'll be able to complete every grid these days except for actresses, so the experience for me isn't the puzzle or its contents, it's in the literary journey. Are the clues worth reading? Do they provide amusing insights on how our language is used? And today, how awkward will it get if everything starts with a B? Not too shabby. If you are a speed solver, I'm assuming all the subtlety is lost on you, and goofy cluing stands as an obstacle to the little timer on the top of the screen. But I like it and there's yet to be a perfect puzzle so why not make it amusing. And, for those without a sense of humor, we can fix that by twisting a screwdriver into your skull. Two turns should do it.

So all in all, a beery beery beautiful day.

Why on Bartleby's buttocks do they keep giving us record labels and TV stations?

Propers: 7
Places: 2
Products: 5
Partials: 4
Foreignisms: 2
Gary's Grid Gunk Gauge: 20 (26%)

Tee-Hee: Eat a KABOB at a BARBECUE in your BRA. Now there's a B-day.


1 Guinness in glass.
2 The inner monologue of a crustacean as you lower him into a pot.
3 What makes moaning Myrtle less moany.
4 The one where my wife keeps one too many water bottles and sometimes they fall on your head when you just need a bowl for Raisin Bran Crunch.
5 Murdered mammal gathering for Brady and Jones.
6 Misspelled warning telegram for Cain.
7 Gautama at the beach.


My Fascinating Crossword Uniclue Keepsake from Last Year: Go one mile per hour over the posted speed limit. KINDA HAUL ASS.


Anonymous 10:57 AM  

Perhaps Bach, as a student of music, used etudes as an exercise.

johnk 11:00 AM  

Liked this a lot more than did Rex. I'd give it a B.
Bach didn't compose anything he called an "ETUDE". However, many of his works are used as ETUDEs. Punch "bach etude" into your search engine.
I disliked ASHIEST, so I googled it after completing the puzzle. I suggest that other dislikers do so.

Gary Jugert 11:00 AM  

@Danny 5:59 AM
He did not write anything called an "étude" (he was German afterall), but a massive amount of his work is used to teach music to students and as such are études. The clue works.

Gary Jugert 11:03 AM  

@John 6:30 AM
Happy B-day John!

johnk 11:05 AM  

@Danny 5:59 AM. No, but see my comment below.

Newboy 11:08 AM  

Easy to B hard on this blemished beauty, but Bosh blimey brother says Newboy after adding in the responses of @Nancy & @Lewis. You can see the good or the bad in a puzzle just like with people depending on your perspective. Thanks for an effort to stir the conversation today MaryEllen.

Anonymous 11:09 AM  

I agree with Rex that this puzzle is substandard for the NYT. It really should not have been accepted. I don't think that a lot. This is the first time in quite a while where I thought that this puzzle was not salvageable to make the standards of the NYT.

jae 11:16 AM  

Mostly easy-medium but add me to those having problems in the NE. DECCA and ETE were gimmes but COCKLES did not leap to mind (I tried a couple of spellings of mussels), I went back a forth between gun and SKI, I forgot about BEECHwood aged, ASHIEST is not pretty… tough corner for me!

I did not know BRUNO and I too did not notice that all the clues begin with B.

Kinda cute, didn’t hate it.

E 11:27 AM  

This was relatively easy (9ish minutes, when my Wednesday average is around 12) but took an extra minute because I had "kebab" instead of "kabob." Easily corrected by getting baseballbat, but I had no clue what an aerobe is.

Tom P 11:28 AM  

Found this one easy (7 minutes faster than my average Wednesday time), enjoyable, but not stellar. So I'm giving it a B.

jb129 11:52 AM  

Well, this wasn't Easy for me & I'm disappointed with myself that it took me so long. I didn't know NICAD. And I thought the BBB theme was rather blah. Otherwise, an ok Wednesday.

mathgent 11:53 AM  

I rate a crossword by the number of red plus signs I write in the margins. I write one in when the puzzle tickles me with a clever clue or a curious fact, something like that. No red plus sign today for having all the clues begin with "b."

Sean Michael Henry 12:10 PM  


Anonymous 12:11 PM  

The Bs jumped out at me from the beginning, so I liked the BDAY reveal. And what a wonderful treat for those whose birthday happens to be today! I think that alone makes this puzzle very clever.

Doctor Work 12:34 PM  

Today's write-up inspired this new verb I'm proposing: rexcoriate. You really rexcoriated this puzzle! Maybe it should be capitalized? I'll leave that up to you to decide.

Anonymous 12:34 PM  

Or watchers!!

Anonymous 12:51 PM  

Baby bottle??!!! Are you kidding??!! It’s a container for formula.

fifirouge 1:14 PM  

Aw shucks! It missed being published on my birthday by one day! Though I guess it's definitely not Thursday-worthy. Oh well. I'm going to pretend it's for me anyways.

I agree with Rex on this one. Kind of a ho-hum solve and I didn't like the grid layout. Had a (mildly) hard time getting in and out of sections because they were broken up so much. The middle is almost it's own mini puzzle. One where HER KAMALA has a BASEBALLBAT and SWEARS about (at?) the USA. Not sure I'd want to be in the room for that!

Aelurus 1:30 PM  

Best Wednesday NYT puzzle--happy B-Day indeed! I had completely missed that all clues start with a B, another reminder that sometimes the clues are there for more than their context. I discovered that lovely bit of extra credit in MaryEllen’s constructor note on the Wordplay blog, where she thanks the NYT puzzle editing team for suggesting it. I had wondered about 60A ETUDE being clued as Bach, not the usual Chopin, and this wonderful theme is why. Looked it up, and Chopin would have his students practice Bach every day for exercise and a warmup.

Hope there are a few birthday celebrants here today! My older cat, Maddy, turned 16 yesterday. When I occasionally solve puzzles with paper and pencil, she warms it up for me by sitting on it, so I will print the puzzle and leave it on the table so she can enjoy it too.

First guesses that made me laugh: mad hornet for 17A; ass for 6D.

My POEms at 8D eventually morphed into POESY when LSAT and BABY BOTTLE appeared. A new word for me, and I smiled to think of a poem as a posy of words.

Also new: bo tree!

Loved the cleverness of the initial misdirection for 14A MOO and 35A BASEBALL BAT.

Astounded myself by prestidigitating 9A’s Bing Crosby’s record label DECCA out of thin air.

Thank you, MaryEllen, for such fun!

ac 1:53 PM  

Bach never wrote any Etudes... A.I. is not helping xword lovers cause at least at the Times

Sailor 1:57 PM  

@Danny, johnk and Gary Jugert: To the earlier comments, I would add that J.S. Bach did publish four volumes that he designated "Clavier-Übung" ("keyboard practice"). So, just études by another name.

Rug Crazy 2:01 PM  

This Bad Boy didn't see all the clues started with b\B until after I was done. it made it all BETTER

Anonymous 2:02 PM  

Mine too, so I liked it at least for that!

okanaganer 2:04 PM  

Rex has definitely missed the point of the theme, but what's even more surprising is that no one else seems to have mentioned it. The theme answers are all three syllables, each starting with a B. Bim-bam-bong! None of Rex's proposed alternatives (and hardly any of the commenters!) fit this scheme. I liked it just because of the rhythm. A bit too easy is my only complaint.

[Spelling Bee: Tue 0, streak 7. I notice this word is no longer accepted.]

egsforbreakfast 2:27 PM  

I might put together a HAPPYBIRTHDAY puzzle with themers such as Caesarean, Breech, After, etc.

My butt sure hurts. I think I've got a case of ASSAIL.

Beldames Bedlam: When crones go crazy.

Many people on the internet have a real ETUDE.

Thanks, MaryEllen Uthlaut

SharonAK 2:52 PM  

I agree with the first comment.
I thought Rex's rambling criticism was way off base.
There weren't just random "B"s the words in the theme answers all started with "B" I noticed that as I did the puzzle.
I did have mixed feelings about the reveal. It somehow seemed weak and at the same time cute/amusing.

There should bee a law that the CAPTCHA pictures have to be big enough to see

SharonAK 2:58 PM  

@Aonymous 7:25
These are exactly the sort of wordplay themes that I started to notice, and enjoy, many decades ago when first started doing NYT crosswords. I felt I was getting a little wordplay game within the game, like a treat in the crackerjacks box.
In other words: YOU ARE SO WRONG

SharonAK 3:12 PM  

Thanks for the chuckles

Anonymous 3:24 PM  

Bach didn’t use the word etude and his name is not now usually connected with that word. But so what?
As noted above, Chopin had his students play Bach pieces. Close enough for crosswords
Remember, we are talking about a PUZZLE with clues and answers, not a dictionary, with words and definitions.

dgd 3:41 PM  

Did not realize that all clues started with a B until I read Rex.
That means that the constructor did a really good job with the clues, as many have said; apparently that gimmick wasn’t her idea but still.
So as usual liked it better than Rex.
Found it easy with a slight slowdown around COCKLES and a bigger slowdown around the BUDDHA. - thought I was clever that I thought of eye instead of HIP and took a while to grok the Bo reference.
So far I see no complaints about obscure trivia. Isn’t that a good thing?

JJK 3:58 PM  

I’m late to the party today, but I just have to complain about BABYBOTTLE as clued. Of course you can put breastmilk in a bottle, it’s common, but if you ask me to come up with that by saying “breastmilk container”, well, I don’t think of bottles. All sorts of answers would fit, but one ending in BOTTLES is way down the list. This was only one if my problems in the NE, where ASHIEST, COCKLES, BEECH and ETHOS (I wanted dogma) all gave me trouble.

Jared 3:59 PM  

I got the theme (as it were) early but didn't even notice all the clues start with B until after reading Rex's writeup. Also, what's with all the record label clues lately? Is this a thing people know? Or once knew? I've literally never thought nor cared about what record label an artist is signed with.

GILL I. 4:11 PM this is what *I* saw: BUBE, BABO, BABA and BUBA. Whaaaat? Something Bieber would sing or is it my BE ME way of thinking. Oh, wait! Each clue starts with a B. Que clever, altho I thought it a fun Tuesday. Oh, Wait!....It's Hump Day with a B....
ASHIEST was cringiest...I've never worn a Bali Bra (although I read it as a ball product and wondered what balls one might use for a BRA. I might have to check in with a Kardashian. I spelled BBQ with a Q like god intended and NIQAD sound like battery or something. Last, but not least....BABY BOTTLE. A mamacita who's bread feeding has a special container she puts her milk in to keep it fresh. It eventually ends up in a bottle but that clue had me staring.
Other than that....I thought this was clever and amusing.

Visho 4:37 PM  

If you express milk in advance you'd put it in a baby bottle for later.

Anonymous 4:39 PM  

Irrationally angry about the fact that Bach never wrote any Etudes.

Anonymous 4:40 PM  

Bartok was right there though…

Anoa Bob 5:17 PM  

Kind of an "If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it..." situation, no? If all the theme clues start with the same letter but no one notices it, does it count?

To you folks giving the constructor credit for starting all the theme clues with a B, how did you determine that? It's clues where editors are most likely to make changes and this could have been an editorial effort give this B fest, Monday-at-best puzzle a much needed bump up to a Wednesday level.

I agree with those calling out one of the B beginning theme clues as wrong. "Breast milk container" would be a BREAST, right? Okay, how about a two-B BIG BOOBIE clue? Oops, not enough letters. Never mind.

Anonymous 5:27 PM  

I agree with Rex. This puzzle was too easy for a Wednesday and wasn’t fun to solve.

Anonymous 5:43 PM  

Misread meditator as mediator and couldn’t figure out what Buddha was negotiating while sitting under the Bo tree.

Anonymous 5:51 PM  

BABY BOTTLE is four syllables.

Anonymous 6:53 PM  

Google “duck blind.”

Anonymous 8:23 PM  

Since no one replied, a duck blind is a place for hunters to hide and shoot the ducks. It’s usually disguised with Camo or other patterns to blend into the surroundings, thus it’s a ruse to fool the ducks.

Anonymous 8:37 PM  

Mine too! I can’t lie, it freaked me out a bit!

Anonymous 5:27 AM  

So…all the clues start with B. The three themers have 2-part answers that each start with B. The revealer says HAPPY B DAY. Sounds like today is “B” day… But you call it substandard because…there are some other Bs in the middle of other words in other parts of the puzzle? Ok.

This critique is more confusing than the supposed shoddy execution of the puzzle itself. It wasn’t my favorite, but I certainly wasn’t besotted by the presence of obvious non-themer-answers-that-happen-to-contain-a-B-in-the-middle. Like, it’s not hard. CRAB is obviously not a theme answer, despite the B at the end. Was that really confusing enough to ruin the whole thing for you?

Anonymous 7:34 AM  

i liked the puzzle but agree that the bach etude thing is just wrong

Dr.A 8:03 AM  

The best part of this puzzle was Rex’s write up. I laughed so hard I cried. I didn’t think it was great but that was the best trashing I’ve ever seen. Especially since it ended by saying it had its merits after all.

doghairstew 10:27 AM  

Bali is a clothing brand that makes bras.

Anon 1:44 PM  

I'm just not on the NYT wavelength. Yet another puzzle finished, without much difficulty, with no idea what the theme was even after finishing. Sort of hard to care about the theme when you don't need to use it. Came here to find out. Meh.

Anonymous 10:37 PM  


WinthorpeIII 12:37 AM  

For the record, there's no "s" at the end of "baht," singular or plural.

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