Wednesday, November 4, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Department Store Apologizes For Flap Over Scrabble Ad


NORWALK, Conn. - Deirdre Armon, an avid Scrabble player, was horrified to discover how the famous board game was being advertised in her local circular.

A Caldor department-store ad included a photograph of two boys sitting around a Scrabble board with the word "rape" spelled out in tiles arranged vertically.

"I was just shocked that that was allowed to slip through the cracks," said Armon, the mother of two girls. "To see it go out in a flier especially for toys - that made it even more gruesome."

Caldor apologized yesterday and said it does not know how 11 million copies of the image - in which the word "rape" appeared on the board alongside two nonsense words - got past proofreaders.

The Norwalk-based discount chain learned of the problem late Friday when a customer called to complain about the toy ad, which appeared in a special toy circular distributed in weekend newspapers.

"Obviously, it's a mistake," Caldor spokeswoman Jennifer Belodeau said. "It's not something that we would ever have done intentionally. While we do proofread these things very carefully, with the volume on that particular page, that was something that was missed."

The "1998 Toy Book" was distributed as an insert to 85 newspapers in the Northeast, where Caldor operates 145 stores.

Belodeau said the Scrabble board shown in the ad originally was set up by an agency hired by Caldor to design the advertising circular.

"It could be that everybody got up and took a break, and some unknown source came in and fooled with the board. There's no way for us to know," she said.

Belodeau said both Caldor and the outside design agency were responsible for proofreading. She would not name the agency. "I don't think we'll ever know how it actually ended up in the game," she said.

Lynn Hawley, a community educator at the Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Stamford, said the ad was upsetting.

"One of the things that we're striving for is to increase sensitivity so that things like this don't happen," Hawley said. "I want kids to know about these things so they can protect themselves, but there are a lot better ways than announcing the word `rape' in a circular."

Milton Bradley, which makes Scrabble, said it had not seen the ad until after it was produced and distributed by Caldor.

"Caldor took full responsibility," said Mark Morris, a spokesman for Milton Bradley. "We are satisfied that they reacted appropriately, once it was brought to their attention."

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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