Oh, I don't know, says Nicole. "I thought you found love a couple of times?"

Ryan's double take said it all ... "What? Really? When? Who?"

Seems he had been way too busy ensuring his hook had been baited to notice the bites. And it's hard to blame him, after what had been two hours of flat-out flirting, which is something to behold when another 29 people are going hard at it as well.

If the energy being projected down the back of Ponsonby's Longroom bar on this humid Wednesday night could have been bottled ... well, you'd have needed a bloody big cork to contain it. Never having previously seen the likes of this, I must admit to preconceptions. Who doesn't think "dance of the desperates" whenever a reference to dating services comes up? It's like swinging. Have you ever seen a photo of an attractive self-declared swinger? Why would you do it to yourself?

But this seems like a nice enough bunch and, for the most part, their approach is: "Well, it's a bit of a laugh, innit?" You can only take that claim at face value when you see two 19-year-old lads explaining their lives in animated style to a pair knocking on 50. It wasn't so long ago that such a bar room encounter would have been illegal unless the women were their mums. Do they even speak the same language?

"Oh, that was like a breath of fresh air," sighs one of the mature ladies after the bell sounds to end their encounter. "You can forget what it was like to have that kind of passion for life."

All very lovely, but is the 21st century so de-personalised that hormonal teens now need professional help to get lucky?

I had to ask ... ah, they'd won a bar tab which could be consumed only if they joined the party. Booze as a carrot ... I guess that's all right then.

Anyway, tonight is really about promoting a new dating website (checkoutmyfriend.co.nz). The only sad note is that it's a once-only proposition. If the punters enjoy the mating methodology being pitched at them and want another lash should this crack fail, they'll have to do it via the anonymity of the internet. Rather than be able to lean in for a sniff and search for tan lines on wedding ring fingers, they'll have to make do with studying sales pitches and tawdry photos. Ah, Romance 2.0.

So, what is the new twist to the standard format that has everyone so het up? Well, whereas speed dating generally involves participants flying solo, this one is a tag team event. Each single arrived armed with whanau support, whose role it was to talk up their lovelorn mate as a golden nugget awaiting discovery - we're told that this form of self-promotion is more believable when it comes from your best mate.

According to the site's Christchurch-based creator, Sally Wynn-Williams, the idea came up over a few glasses of wine with the ladies. More than a few of them turned out to be single, a condition no one could explain, given their agreed hotness, success and sanity. The conversation then turned to the best methods to snare a good man and the internet came out on top as the best means of screening out the duffers. Wynn-Williams hopes her twist of getting others to provide the sales pitch will avoid the noisome cheesiness and cringe factor that is common among dating site profiles.

One year on and it seems its live incarnation turns out to be a chat-up frenzy. Like someone buying a nudey mag and happily admitting they really do want it for the pictures, they are relishing the opportunity to drop the coyness and own up to their intentions.

To make it work, each single lady/wingperson pairing is assigned a table and they chat to a different single bloke/wingperson pairing every 10 minutes as they revolve around the room. Once the encounter is over the singles reflect and decide if they want to return for seconds by ticking their dance card, "yes", "no" or (shudder) "friend". This is then handed in for the organisers to compile and send out emails advising people of their potential follow-up options.

From what I could see, that was the extent of the organisation. Once the opening question was hurdled - and it was almost always "so, what do you do?" - all four start jabbering away in theatrical style. It's part job interview with applicants on both sides of the table and part noisy party scene from a movie with the lead actors removed. Everyone's wearing Fantasy Island smiles, leaning forward and giving it the big, nervous college try. It's earshreddingly heartwarming really.

Fashionwise, the ladies seem to have made an effort. Unfortunately, too many of the lads are trapped in the standard blue jeans and shirt look. Boring. Maybe they're unused to competing for mates? What with the man-drought and all. So, surprise, surprise, just as things get underway everyone realises there are surplus men which leads to a few "what the hell?" glances between some guys over the prospect of having to spend at least one date chatting up other blokes. Just to think they'd gone to the bother of putting on their going-out jeans and messing their hair ... sheesh.

All is set to rights by a few late ring-ins and the blur of pick-ups and put-downs commences until the final bell tolls. Time's up, pencils down, thanks for the good times.

Once the scorecards are in, a success is declared. Of the 30 hopefuls, 11 guys and eight girls felt they had made connections. Two girls won the players of the day award with four wannabe suitors each ... busy times ahead ladies. Another four won the speed dating equivalent to the most improved cup - people said they liked them, but just as friends ... urgh.

As for Ryan ... a quick peek at his card showed why he missed all the come hithering, a great big tick said he only ever had eyes for Victoria. Best of luck, big boy, but you're on your own next time.