Here’s a reminder for those of you on the West Coast that the Crosswords LA tournament is coming up Sunday, Oct. 21. You can preregister here, although I believe that preregistration will be ending on the 15th. So hop to!

Today’s tricky theme features several Across answers that, at first glance, don’t make much sense. 24A: [Steep, as meat] is … MARIN? Shouldn’t that be MARINATE? In fact, it *is* MARINATE, but the end of the answer turns down. There are 10 such Across answers that turn Down when they reach a man’s name:

  • 23A: [Landing site during Operation Neptune] is NORMANDY. The man’s name running Down is Andy, which is also the end of SHANDY at 5D: [Cocktail that may consist of lager and Sprite].
  • 24A: [Steep, as meat] is MARINATE. Nate, which also ends SENATE at 10D: [Cabinet-checking group?].
  • 26A: [Ball VIPs] is BELLES. Les, which also ends ISLES at 18D: [Places to be marooned].
  • 30A: [Without a brand name] is GENERIC. Eric, which also ends HOMERIC at 14D: [Like some epic poetry].
  • 70A: [Ride to a certain station] is POLICE VAN. Evan, which also ends GENEVAN at 55D: [Resident of Europe’s “Capital of Peace"].
  • 72A: [Louis Armstrong, e.g.] is TRUMPETER. Peter, which also ends SALTPETER at 49D: [Compound used as an oxidizer in fireworks].
  • 113A: [Wine repositories] is CELLARS. Lars, which also ends PILLARS at 94D: [Those with supporting roles?].
  • 116A: [High-ranking military official] is MARSHAL. Hal, which also ends LETHAL at 99D: [Like tetrodotoxin from a puffer fish].
  • 119A: [Former muscle car featured in “Smokey and the Bandit"] is TRANS AM. Sam, which also ends BALSAM at 101D: [Fragrant plant resin].
  • 122A: [Scheduled] is SLATED. Ted, which also ends TOTED at 109D: [Carried].
  • And the revealer at 57D: [“There’s an injured soldier here!" … and a hint to 10 answers in this puzzle] is MAN DOWN.

Like the “Split Ends” puzzle from Sept. 30, this puzzle features top/bottom symmetry in the grid to accommodate the turning theme answers; I didn’t imagine I’d be using that unusual black square pattern twice in three weeks after never having used it previously.

Whenever I write a puzzle with theme answers that split in a strange way, or feature letters hidden in black squares, my goal is always the same: Try to make every answer legitimate before applying the theme. You could, in theory, solve this puzzle Downs-only without understanding the theme at all except for noting the MAN DOWN revealer, and you’d still end up with a valid crossword grid with no gibberish answers. But that wasn’t my biggest challenge when writing this puzzle. The toughest part was avoiding men’s names everywhere else. Even with an answer such as ORR at 3D, I steered clear of the various Bobby Orr clues and went with [Singer Sheena Easton’s original surname] instead. I wasn’t 100 percent successful in keeping other men out of the grid, because IAGO shows up at 115A: [Red Disney bird] and THOR shows up at 125A: [Foe of the mythological serpent Jörmungandr], but I did my best.

One amusing note: Three of the five co-founders of the Indie 500 Crossword Tournament are “fall guys” in this puzzle. There’s Andy (Kravis), Peter (Broda) and Evan (me). Eric is a near-fourth match with Erik (Agard). The only complete omission was Neville (Fogarty), and it might have been possible to fit him in with BONN running Across and turning Down to form the complete answer BONNEVILLE, the last name of “Downton Abbey” actor Hugh. But then that probably would have forced me to use another man’s name such as AARON NEVILLE in the Down direction when I was trying to avoid men’s names in the first place. Anyway, my apologies, Neville.

A few other answers and clues:

  • 6A: [“Orange Is the New Black" prop] is CUFFS. My wife and I recently finished season 6 of the show.
  • 60A: [TV Princess Elena’s kingdom] is AVALOR. While visiting my sister-in-law and her two young daughters last year for Thanksgiving, I got a chance to see an “Elena of Avalor” episode. It’s all right as kids’ shows go.
  • 68A: [Social groups?] is TEA SETS. Because “group” doesn’t always mean a group of humans.
  • 124A: [Channel associated with a ticker?] is AORTA. My favorite clue today, and it echoes 1D: [Channel associated with a ticker], which is CNN.
  • 8D: [Ally of Max in a 2015 “Mad Max" film] is FURIOSA. She’s such a cool character. I loved watching “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and Furiosa is at least 80 percent of the reason.
  • 117D: [“How you doin'" omission] is ARE, in that it’s literally omitted from “How are you doing?” I guess GEE makes an acceptable alternate answer, though.

See you next week!