Cat’s Opposite

The phrase BE A MAN has been used twice before in the New York Times Crossword: in 2015 to mean “Toughen up!” by Bruce Haight, and in 1992 as a fill-in-the-blank for the Rudyard Kipling poem “If” in a puzzle by Eugene T. Maleska.

54D: It’s not going away, folks. The word BAE is a perfectly cromulent one these days and it makes constructors’ lives so much easier, what with the double vowel and all.

Mr. Thackray offers us a set of five sound substitution theme entries. The substitution of a “K” sound for the similar “Q” sound changes the base phrase, and the clues are written for the new phrase.

For example, the answer to the clue “Fury at a husband leaving his entire estate to his mistress?” is WIDOW’S PIQUE, based on the phrase “widow’s peak.” Similarly, at 59A, the answer to the clue “Smudge on a theater sign?” is MARQUEE MARK, a pun on the singer and actor Marky Mark, also known as Mark Wahlberg.

When I first submitted this blurb, I did so for the wrong puzzle. I actually completely forgot this puzzle had been accepted, so it was a very pleasant surprise to see it on the docket. It has several clues I’m proud of, such as the fun back-and-forth pairing at 32-Across and 33-Across, the simple wordplay of 53-Across and the enigmatic misdirect at 52-Down.

I also just finished a six-week run acting in a production of “Matilda,” which was a fabulous production full of talented and hilarious people, so it was funny that my past self somehow had the foresight to make a nod to that wonderful story in the clue to 57-Across, when I wrote that clue months ago. Or maybe Will Shortz tweaked the clue to mention the story, I don’t remember. Either way is nice. Finally, the blurb I wrote for the other puzzle talked about a connection to a Disney song lyric, just like 46-Across here. I’d say that’s a funny coincidence, but anyone who knows me well enough, and has heard me belt out the entirety of “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid,” probably wouldn’t be surprised.

As you may imagine, I had to remake this grid a few times until I got something remotely satisfying, as it’s a bit difficult to fit five different Q’s into a puzzle seamlessly. I also considered adding something along the lines of IF IT AIN’T BAROQUE, or GO FOR BAROQUE, but that felt too played out already, so the idea wound up on the cutting-room floor. I also really hoped I could fit the word BISQUE in somewhere, because it’s such a fun word, but there’s no real homophonic counterpart that I could find, alas.

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Warning: There be spoilers ahead, but subscribers can take a peek at the answer key.

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Your thoughts?