It was a cross between a slick version of supermarket sweepstakes and an old-fashioned college mixer last night as more than 400 people charged through Neiman-Marcus, clues in hand, for the second annual "Great Catalogue Caper," a store-wide searching spree that raised more than $40,000 for the American Diabetes Association.

"My first clue said something about being in a clutch, so I headed to the purse department," said Margaret Heckler, secretary of Health and Human Services and an honorary co-chairman, as she headed up the escalator to the second floor. "Now I'm looking for shoes."

"I keep going back and forth between perfumes and ties and getting the same clues," said Nancy Marchand, best known for her Mrs. Pinchon role on "Lou Grant," and an active member of the ADA's committee to find and assist the estimated 5 million Americans who have diabetes but go without treatment. "We're trying to make people aware," said Marchand. "It doesn't always happen to the other person."

But for this evening, at least, it was everyone for himself, as couples split, teams formed and veterans from last year's caper went up and down and up and down the escalator bank--from furs to home furnishings--in search of more than $10,000 worth of prizes.

"I think they've literally worked it out to two escalator trips per clue," said Lipman Redman, a tax attorney. "I never knew this store before . . . but I do now."

"I haven't even gotten to first base yet," said Agriculture Secretary John R. Block as he passed the store's fenced-in display of Chinese Shar-pei dogs, this year's "His & Her" gifts in the Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalogue. "I'm not really very good at these games."

But at least one couple was good at the game--or at least determined to search down to the last clue. Leon and Judy Malnik, who came away with a $1,000 Bill Blass gift certificate, admitted to a little bit of lucky technique. "We ended up in the shortest line at the box in the tie department," said Leon Malnik. "The game was about to end so they emptied the box of clues and one was a winner."

"The only Bill Blass I've had before is a set of sheets we got as a wedding present," said Judy Malnik with a laugh. "Now she can get a sleeve of a Blass fur," added her husband.