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New York Toy Fair Celebrates Romance

At the American International Toy Fair in New York this week (February 2-14), most of the 1500 exhibitors were hawking toys and game products targeted mainly at children. But many were also showing specially-themed toys for an older, more romantically-inclined market. That's because the exhibition's final day falls on Valentine's Day (February 14), a popular national observance devoted wholeheartedly to the eternal game of love.

The American International Toy Fair is about marketing millions of dollars worth of toys and games, and cutting some serious deals with potential retailers. But even the toughest salesmen couldn't resist the Valentine's Day bug.

Many of the games at the fair were designed for people hoping to meet the love of their lives, or at least to fantasize about it. In Martinis and Men, players are given cards with the stock character types one might encounter in the online dating world: spiritual gardener, couch potato, kinky sports nut, or sexy socialite and sexy extrovert, as Maggie Elkins, the game's inventor, explains.

"So what you would do is try to find a female who is also sexy or a socialite. And we have this guy who is a sexy extrovert," Maggie Elkins, the game's inventor, explains. "I match up the sexy socialite and the sexy extrovert and I see how their fist date goes."

That's determined by a roll of the dice. "Women roll a red die, and men roll a blue one. The faces on the dice have pictures on them. A lightning bolt means they detest one another," Elkins says. "The martini glass means they liked each other but they'll go out on another date. It's not serious yet. And finally the heart means love at first sight." Two hearts mean love at first sight. "And of course they get married and the bells are ringing and the doves are flying and it's all wonderful and magical."

Some games help couples learn how well they already know each other. Match Mate is one of them. "All of us think we know our partner, and this game puts it to the test," says Susan Adamo Baumbach of the Pressman Toy Corporation.

Players divide up into two teams, men and women. Spouses are asked personal questions about their spouses such as "What is the name of your wife's first boyfriend," or "Which of you is sneakier."

Baumbach predicts "people will buy [Matchmate] because not only is love wonderful, but love can be very funny!"

This year's Toy Fair also features scientific tests, designed to teach children about chemistry and biology, both relevant subjects for Valentine's Day. For example, the Stellar Defender Company markets a whimsical product called the Space Alien Test Kit, in which litmus paper is swabbed in the mouth of one's playmate. The acidity or alkalinity in the saliva turns the paper a certain color, which is then compared to a chart to determine whether he or she is…ahem… a space alien, and, if so, what type. Angela, a demonstrator, says this is perfect sport for Valentine's Day. "If you are out on a date, don't you want to know they are?"

Depending on one's point of view, romantic love is either a game, or an inexact science. In either case, it is certain that people will continue to play that game as if their lives depended on it, trying, heroically, to figure it all out.