It's lipapalooza time downtown

At exactly three minutes after noon yesterday, Jelly Stanchina, a 36-year-old software engineer, leaned back to yell.

He was standing in Seattle's Westlake Plaza at the time. He cupped his hands around his mouth for maximum effect.

"Ladies and gentlemen!" Stanchina called out, to a dozen couples nearby. "Start your engines!"

That was their cue. Heads tilted, bodies bumped, and the couples started to kiss. Five minutes passed, with some swapping of partners; then the whole thing stopped as suddenly as it had started, leaving nearby shoppers confused.

Welcome to the Seattle Flash Makeout, a monthly event organized online by Stanchina and attended largely by his friends. For the most part, people passing by do not join the fun. There was that time last spring, at Seattle Center — but the group put that down to the heady influence of sun after so much rain.

Seattle Flash Makeout is inspired by the international "Flash Mob" movement, which uses a Web site as its headquarters. The goal is to get strangers to meet up at a certain place, at a certain time, to perform a certain task.

Stanchina chose kissing because, he said, it's pretty fun. And because it shocks people, when it's done en masse in public. Some smile when they see it. Some stare. Some look disgusted, and throw snide remarks his way.

"Makes your brain click, in one way or another," Stanchina said. "Kinda like looking at art."

Anni Marttala, of Puyallup, thought at first she was watching a scientific experiment. That was the only explanation she could come up with when she saw Stanchina kiss one woman and then another, all in a matter of minutes.

"The women didn't hit him or anything," said Marttala, 31. "And he was very into it with each of them."

Marttala was at the plaza yesterday to hand out sample packets of breath mints. It occurred to her that the couples could probably use some. But they were so distracted, she decided not to step in.

Participants gave different reasons for getting involved. Joy Fairfield, 24, said kissing in public makes people more tolerant, and tolerance leads to acceptance, and acceptance means less repression in the world.

"Harvard girls," said her friend Kevin Fadley, 25, rolling his eyes.

Others declared they were exhibitionists, plain and simple. There's a thrill to being silly, they said; it's fun to throw some shock society's way.

But some passers-by were not pleased. A few people muttered "Get a room." And when 16-year-old Rashawna Coleman crossed the street and saw the couples, she was just plain disgusted.

"People don't want to see people swapping spit," she said.

The kissing was mostly among friends yesterday. But there were a few newcomers. Adrian Wolf, 37, heard about Seattle Flash Makeout on the radio last week and decided to surprise his girlfriend. He told Sara Landrie, 27, that they were headed to the pumpkin festival downtown.

And that's how the couple ended up outside Starbucks shortly after noon. When Wolf heard the call, he leaned in for a long kiss. To his surprise, his girlfriend was game. She didn't realize it was staged. She didn't care that it was in public.

"When you kiss somebody, everything else goes away," she said.

Cara Solomon: 206-464-2024 or