LastResort, the Mac's weirdest font

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/08/17/lastresort-the-macs-weirdes.html

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Im thick and I didn’t get what that means, and so I read the article provided. Here’s what it says so you don’t have to look it up yourself:

These glyphs are used as the backup of “last resort” to any other font; if the font cannot represent any particular Unicode character, the appropriate “missing” glyph from the Last Resort font is used instead. This provides users with the ability to tell what sort of character it is, and gives them a clue as to what type of font they would need to display the characters correctly.

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Because ASCII or Helvetica or any of a million actually readable fonts would be…well, not the Apple way.

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Combine these with Yamashita’s treasure maps to find the gold.

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Last Resort only shows up if fonts like Helvetica can’t display it—so it’s almost certainly a code number outside the ASCII range.

Sometimes, though, it shows up when a font has cut itself into pieces.

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X-All-The-Y_phixr

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Summary

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Reminds me of Ron Cobb’s design for icons in the film Alien
image

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A funny (read: obnoxious) thing happened recently in reverse. I was working on a client’s print material and asked them for all of the font info for the file in question (it was already in .jpg or some such). They returned with something like “Thai Mono Something Something”. I load the font up and, surprise, it’s all Thai characters.

“Are you sure about that? Can you load an original in and double check?”

“Yep, it’s Thai Mono Something Something.”

“That’s impossible. It looks like Helvetica Neue Light at XX spacing.”

“Nope, it’s definitely Thai Mono Something Something.”

Turns out, when a Mac needs an English character in a foreign language font, it has a default for each font. In this case it was Helvetica Neue Light. So whoever had done the original layout had no clue what they were doing, cycled through hundreds of fonts to accidentally ended up at a foreign language font that defaults to Helvetica Neue Light.

It took me hours to figure out and rebuild his silliness.

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The LastResort font is used for things like “this particular Linear-B character isn’t available” and the glyphs are a “recognizable” representative from the range with a thick black rounded rectangle border, and the name of the range (in English) on the top or bottom (I already forget which) and normally the range in hex on the left and right.

While it would be used for say a font missing the Latin alphabet it is really intended for things that you won’t find in Helvetica anyway.

(also Apple does do some more typical font substitutions, any missing emojis come from AppleColorEmoji for example, and other substitute letters come from fonts with some similar typographical attributes, I don’t know if any of the tis actually encoded true-type or what, but it looks like if you have for example a font missing é you get a substitute that has or lacks serifs depending on what the source font had, it can be somewhat disconcerting if the original font is particularly stylized like “bleeding cowboy”, but normally it seems to work out)

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Each unicode block is associated with a glyph.

So, if someone sends you a page in Ethiopic script, and you don’t have a font that supports that code page, you’ll see a page full of this sort of thing

Screen Shot 374 in addition to characters that mean “missing glyph”. It might make debugging easier, or it might just prompt you to install the proper typeface.

That’s all this font does. Since unicode contains a limited number of blocks, it’s a small font.

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In other words, a Helvetica scenario?

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Got me thinking about this post. Cool.

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from

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The Yoni button. By god someone has finally found it.

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“Sinhala” is 7 characters.
image

is one character. For certain applications, such as hex editers, this could be very handy, though I haven’t discovered one that supports it. For graphics professionals, having something that doesn’t screw up your layout is a nice touch.

Here’s some older technical documentation from apple on it.

http://mirror.informatimago.com/next/developer.apple.com/fonts/LastResortFont/index.html

Overall, there are a number of advantages to using a Last Resort font for unrepresentable characters.

  1. Operating systems are freed from the overhead of providing a full Unicode font.
  2. Users see something more meaningful than a black box for unrepresentable characters.
  3. Users familiar with the scripts being represented with the Last Resort font will readily identify what needs to be installed to represent the text.
  4. Users unfamiliar with the missing scripts are shown easily-identified symbols rather than lengthy strings of unidentifiable characters.

wikipedia says

Fonts which support a wide range of Unicode scripts and Unicode symbols are sometimes referred to as “pan-Unicode fonts”, although as the maximum number of glyphs that can be defined in a TrueType font is restricted to 65,535, it is not possible for a single font to provide individual glyphs for all defined Unicode characters (143,859 characters, with Unicode 13.0).

so apple’s first point is salient-- no full unicode font can be provided because one can’t exist. One would need to provide a CJK font to supplement a extended Latin-1 font. And this leads into the prospect of making the CJK font optional. And if that optional font is missing?

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Don’t even get me started on Zinc Oxide

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I have that page permanently bookmarked for years now. Its great.

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I am still unsure what all this means - guessing it’s why sometimes stuff that I cut and paste into forms and stuff end up as empty squares.