Let’s start with a story. The Four Letter Word machine was invented in 1973 by Raymond Weisling. The device was simple – it used 4x B7971 tubes to display random for letter words. Of course, the draw to a device like this is that occasionally, one of the results would appeal to the prurient interests of a viewer. This was not lost on Playboy who actually featured one of Ray’s creations in a 1973 issue.
Around 2006, Ray apparently decided to revive his creation and start selling them through his former website, zetalink.biz, as kits for hobbyists. Unfortunately, he did not actually ship all of his orders and appears to have scammed several members of the nixie community out of several hundred of dollars each. On list of people who never received a unit were Peter Hand and Jeff Thomas.
Pete had purchased one of Ray’s kits to give it as a gift for his daughter. After waiting for a year and a half, it became apparent that he was not going to get the device and so he decided to engineer his own version. In fact, he made two versions – a B7971 version (that also supports the planar neon ZM1350 tubes) as well as a smaller VFD version (see more here.)
In the last year, Jeff modified Pete’s design (with his permission) and added features like a GPS time base and a nice enclosure (designed by Jürgen Grau). Now, 38 years after the original Four Letter Word machine was released, you can buy a complete device, including tubes, from a reputable seller.