Skip to Content
Skip to Table of Contents

← Previous Article Next Article →

ATPM 17.09
September 2011





Download ATPM 17.09

Choose a format:


by Mark Tennent,

Scrabbling Around for a Solution

There is an annoying glitch that many Lion users are reporting with Safari. On some Web sites, headers are displayed as a string of little boxes with a letter A inside, looking like a Scrabble tile in appearance. Only Safari is affected; Firefox and other Web browsers do not suffer the same problem and will display perfectly the sites Safari baulks at. Microsoft Office users also have similar font problems.

While this has been reported mainly in the Lion community, it is not rare in earlier versions of Mac OS, including pre–OS X versions, but it does seem more prevalent on Macs using a separate font manager such as Extensis Fusion or FontExplorer. Sometimes these are the cause of the glitch and adjusting settings will provide the solution, but there are many more reasons for the problem Scrabble tiles appearing.

Obviously each Mac setup is different, but here are some tips for solving the problem, which is almost always caused by fonts.

The first thing to try is emptying all font caches by starting in Safe Mode (holding down the Shift key as the Mac starts), then restarting back into normal mode. Or by using font cache clearing routines in most font managers and also the beta version of Onyx for Lion. At this point, check whether the font manager’s preferences are set to automatically activate typefaces for Safari. This can activate duplicate typefaces and so create the Scrabble tiles.

All being well, that should sort things out, but sometimes the problem reappears again soon afterwards, calling for more drastic action. Next, check the fonts themselves. Duplicates and corrupted typefaces are often the cause. Turn off all fonts enabled by the font manager and open Font Book. Using its tools, check for duplicate typefaces and whether any essential fonts are missing.

Font Book will show a yellow triangle adjacent to duplicated fonts in its list. Click on the triangle and resolve the duplicates. Similarly, check in the Web set to make sure Arial, Georgia, Verdana, and Times New Roman are listed. Many Web sites use these as a fall-back position if other fonts are missing.

If any are missing in Font Book, look in Library/Fonts and see whether they are there, or for any duplicates. The latter may have the same name plus a digit in brackets, or preceded by a hash symbol. These typefaces can be dragged to the desktop. If there are fonts in the Font folder that don’t appear in Font Book’s lists, click on the little plus sign at the bottom of Font Book’s screen, navigate to the Fonts folder, and add the missing typefaces.

Still not fixed? If you are using a font manager, deactivate it and restart. Has the problem gone away? If so, then it is your font manager at fault, and you are down to a painful trial and error session trying all eventualities, preferences, and typefaces until you resolve the issue. It is often duplicated fonts again, where one is much older than the other and can safely be deleted. If you can see the typeface the font manager activates, try putting a copy into the ~/Library/Fonts folder. Otherwise, turn each active typeface off in turn until the Scrabble tiles disappear. Arial is very often the culprit and luckily is near the top of the font lists.

Software from Microsoft and Adobe has a nasty habit of installing new typefaces outside of the system’s Fonts folders. These often contain newer versions of typefaces than the ones on the main system—in which case, these need to be whittled out and placed in the Fonts folder as replacements for the older ones. There is no point in removing Microsoft’s typefaces because they will be automatically installed the next time the application is opened.

If the problem is only in Safari and Lion, it may be something to do with Safari’s new sandbox way of working. This will need solving by Apple’s engineers; report the bug and wait for a solution. There is a possible fix for a Safari sandboxing error listed on page 3 of this discussion. Rather you than me.

However, it is far more likely to be a problem with your own Mac and especially the typefaces on it. This very long article goes deep into font management and solutions.

My bet is that Arial, Georgia, Helvetica, or Times New Roman is corrupted, duplicated, or missing.

Also in This Series

Reader Comments (0)

Add A Comment

 E-mail me new comments on this article