LOOKING

AT SOME POINT, every single has played “Spot the Empty Ring Finger.” And given that the Census Bureau counted 90 million singles in the United States in 2006, you’d think it would be an easy game to win. Apparently not (at least not if the 54,000 Portlanders with Match.com accounts are any indication). But merely looking and hoping isn’t going to net you much more than frustration. To ensure you get exactly what you want, you’ve got to be more strategic in your search (hint No. 1: skip the bar). Our experts tell you how.

TIP No.1 — WEAVE A BETTER WEB

THERE ARE NOW more than 1,300 U.S.-based Websites dedicated to creating cyber love connections. Yep, online dating is here to stay. And while the stigma may be gone, making your profile pop gets harder with each new member. Galen Buckwalter, the head of research for Eharmony.com, says just a few tweaks to your online-dating approach can mean the difference between time wasted or time well spent. “A ‘glamour shot’ is nice,” says Buckwalter. “But a variety of photos is crucial.” After all, there’s probably more to you than the 20 pics of your last camping trip suggest, and if you’re not a hardcore outdoorsman, you’re sending the wrong message anyway. As for the profile itself, brevity is key. And remember, even a typo can be a deal-breaker. “It amazes me how many people don’t spell-check their profiles,” says Buckwalter. When you do connect with someone, it’s wise to wait at least a week before meeting to ensure enough getting-to-know-you time. “But you don’t want to correspond too much beforehand, as that creates feelings prematurely,” he says. “Then it’s harder to say no to a second date.”

TIP No. 2 — PLAY FIRST, LOOK LATER

THE NATIONAL DATING SERVICE It’s Just Lunch has set up over 1,000 bar-weary Portlanders on daytime dates with like-minded singles, all to the tune of a $1,600 annual membership fee. (Ouch.) There’s no guarantee that all that dough will net you a relationship, though, let alone an enjoyable afternoon. So if forking over two months’ rent to get a date isn’t your style, join one of these groups, where meeting someone who shares your passion for, say, planting trees is just a bonus on top of doing what you already love.

SWEAT IT OUT

THE GAME Working up a sweat with Recess Time Sports League 503-381-5056; www.recesstimesports.com

THE PLAYERS Twenty- and thirtysomethings who take kickball, dodgeball, and bowling as seriously as the pitchers of Pabst that follow each game

THE SCORE Nothing says "I think I like you" like a big rubber ball to the chest. Except maybe buying your opponent a beer at Recess Time’s post-play parties, to which all of the league’s participants are invited. In fact, Recess Time’s founder, Colleen Finn, 29, met her girlfriend, Kim, on one of the league’s kickball teams, the Mt. Hoodlums. "If you can come, sweat, and still look cute after the game, you’re pretty much set," says Finn.

CUT A RUG

THE GAME Getting down at Tango Berretín 503-771-7470 www.tangoberretin.com

THE PLAYERS Novice and seasoned hoofers, from teenagers to the golden-years set, looking for partners in dance, romance, or both.

THE SCORE Alex Krebs doesn’t like to cheapen the tango by calling it a "sexy" dance. "It’s more sensual than anything," says Krebs, 30, the studio’s owner and instructor. (That sounds promising.) Drop in on a Friday night for a $10, one-hour lesson and stick around for the milonga—the 30-person group dance session that follows—and see where your rhythm takes you.

SAVE THE WORLD

THE GAME Saving the world with Oregon Sierra Club 503-243-6656 www.oregon.sierraclub.org

THE PLAYERS Idealistic grad students, do-gooding yuppies, and divorcés looking to get back in the game, politically and otherwise

THE SCORE Exercise your green thumb and plant trees with America’s oldest environmental group. Or simply mingle with other enviro-leaning singles at Activist Night on Tuesdays, or monthly “Sierra Club and Beer” events at the Goodfoot Lounge. “There is a lot of love-budding in nature,” says Nat Parker, 29, the Portland chapter director. And apparently between the people saving it, as well.

HEAT IT UP

THE GAME Heating it up at Oregon Culinary Institute 503-961-6200 www.oregonculinaryinstitute.com

THE PLAYERS High schoolers to senior citizens, and all the people in between who are hoping to spice up their routine.

THE SCORE With course names like “Thai Me Up,” no unattached foodie should miss a chance to get schooled in one of this cooking school’s 90 classes. Program director Kevin Richards, 35, says the “intimate kitchen space” creates a welcoming environment for folks who show up solo. And the five-hour sessions provide plenty of time to whip up conversation.

TIP No. 3 — SEIZE THE EVERYDAY

THINK YOU’RE TOO busy to look for love? From your morning commute to your evening spin class, the daily grind offers ample opportunity to spark conversation with strangers. “The key is to employ self-deprecating wit with a dash of harmless flirting,” says Portland Monthly consulting editor Bart Blasengame, 34. Blasengame offers these four reliable icebreakers that helped move him off the singles market and into a relationship. (Sorry, ladies.)

On the bus "I’m totally stumped on this crossword. Do you know a three-letter word for ‘domestic feline’?"

In line for coffee "It’s inspiring to see someone order her coffee in under 15 syllables. I can’t seem to do it in under 20. What’s your secret?"

At the dog park "There’s nothing like scooping up after a dog to keep the human ego in check, eh?"

At the gym "I’m impressed that you’re able to run for 50 minutes on Level 7. Are you training for the Portland Marathon, or just a far superior athlete than I am?"