Nearly 200 people were at Abbey Road, a downtown bar, on a recent Sunday night to watch panels of three men and then three women compete for dates with strangers by answering provocative questions.

"The Dating Game" party, modeled after the old television show, was Elliott B. Jaffa's latest venture in what he calls the "singles business." Jaffa, 38 and unmarried, has made a career of that business in Washington since he left his job three years ago as a behavioral psychologist at a lose weight-stop smoking clinic. He teaches such courses at Open University as "How to Pick up Men (and Women)," "How to Make $1,000 a Week (Without Losing Your Job)" and "Chutzpa 101." Jaffa and Open University cosponsored the party and split its profits.

"A single person is always looking for -- who knows what -- Mr. Right, an alternative to loneliness," Jaffa said. "They think it's a meaningful relationship, but it's not. It's sharing a walk in Georgetown, a pepperoni pizza, half of a double bed. They singles come up with their own operational definition."

Although Jaffa received half of the $5 per person admission fee, he had other reasons for staging the party. He said he has always regretted turning down a chance to appear on the TV game show in 1978 because he did not want to pay his own expenses to Los Angeles where the show was produced.

It was with that sense of missed opportunity and missed adventure that Washington's singles ambassador decided to offer eight local contestants a "fantasy" that could have been his. So a platform between Abbey Road's two downstairs bars became a threshold for two blind dates.

In keeping with the fantasy that one can be found attractive solely for unseen qualities, Jaffa's contestants were kept hidden from their potential dates until after the choice was made.

"Bachelorette No. 2, tell me what kind of tattoo you have . . . and where," said 26-year-old Ernie Tolley, a nurse from Arlington.

"It's a tattoo of you, Ernie," answered Sandy Caudle, "and it's near my heart." Caudle, a flight attendant--small, blonde and wide-eyed--wore an off-white knit dress with gold metallic threading.

"Bachelorette No. 3," Tolley asked, "what can you do to make me laugh?"

"Are you ticklish?" Joan Rasmussen, a 34-year-old public relations executive, replied after a pause, adding, "where?"

Then it was Bachelorette No. 1's turn to answer Tolley. "Not to be cruel," said Elena Allen, 27, "but you could turn around and look at bachelorettes numbers two and three." The audience laughed.

Tolley asked about their massage techniques and how they would describe their feet.

"Very small," Caudle replied. "They'll fit your back."

Jaffa said the eight contestants were persons he knew or had caught his attention at Open University as attractive, outgoing and who could think fast on their feet. Jaffa wrote the questions.

"I just thought it would be something unusual to do," said contestant Glenn Wheeler, 24, president of a security firm. "It's not so much that I want to meet someone . . . everyone would like to think that if you were put in a line, you'd be chosen."

Linda Bramell, 22, who chose Wheeler--Bachelor No. 3 -- for a brunch date at Clyde's in Tysons Corner and other prizes, said she is dating someone.

Nevertheless, she said: "Everyone's always wanted to be on 'The Dating Game.' . . . it's so simple. It's so complicated in real life: the lines, how can I sell myself, the insecurity of 'will they call me again, shall I call them?' "

After she met her choice, Wheeler, Bramell rated him as "okay."

Bachelors One and Two, Alan Sheldon, 30, a computer firm consultant, and Jan Bongers, 38, who works in theater production, said they were not disappointed at the outcome.

Bongers said he believes in "destiny" when it comes to love: "It's a simple thing," he said. "Everyone should know, and I believe they do, who the right person is."

The audience stood or sat on high stools near the bars while Jaffa greeted newcomers and waited for the crowd to grow before starting the game. But the real dating game already had begun among the audience.

Near one bar, Stan Brown, tall, neatly and stylishly dressed in a beige suit with the triangle of an ivory hankerchief peeking from his left breast pocket, conversed comfortably with a dark-haired woman in a maroon dress, whom he had just met.

Brown, 41 and never married, who works in scientific computer applications was talking to Pat, a legal secretary, divorced 10 years, about -- what else -- the singles scene in Washington and trying to learn her age.

He said he has remained single because, "I think we're all picky. If I never get married, it's because I never got a good enough offer. That's life." He said he is looking for a tall woman, "slender, nonsmoker and no children."

Before the first round of"The Dating Game, Stan Brown and Pat had moved on to other people.

Tolley, the bachelor with three choices, considered the three women hidden on the stage behind him.

"Number. . .Two," he finally announced, to a burst of applause.

Tolley and Caudle, who won two tickets to a Washington Bullets game and a bottle of champagne, chatted until after 11 p.m. when the party was about over.

Rasmussen, Bachelorette No. 3, said it is not difficult for singles to meet persons in Washington -- or elsewhere. "Just say hello," she said. "Most people go to a place like Abbey Road and don't talk to people. It's not that people don't meet people; they don't meet the kind of person they want to meet."