Many 20th century high-rise buildings do not have a thirteenth floor. The simple reason is the superstition that the number thirteen brings bad luck. As there are people who will not rent or stay in a room on a thirteenth floor, that floor is 'skipped'. The knowledge of buildings not having a thirteenth floor helps to perpetuate the superstition, providing an excellent example of recursion.


"A fear of the number 13 costs America over a billion dollars a year in absenteeism, train and plane cancellations, and reduced commerce on the 13th of the month." --Superstitions, by Suzanne Lord
While it is a convention that buildings over 12 storeys high do not have an elevator button 13, I am always curious as to whether there is a hidden floor, not accessible from the elevator.

For six months, I was working for a bank, which had a 20 storey building (though I was working in an 8 storey annexe), and I still do not know to this day whether there is a hidden floor 13.

One way to find out is to use the stairs. This option was not available to me, as all the emergency exit doors were alarmed, and there was no fire drill to provide the opportunity.

Another way is to count the floors of the building from the outside. If the skyscraper is very tall, this can be very difficult. Also, the following complicate the issue:

  • British lifts start at floor 0 (or G), the ground floor, whereas American elevators have floor 1 as the ground floor. I have used this comparison when teaching about arrays to CS students.
  • Sometimes, your entrance to the building is not on the ground floor, e.g. if the building is on a hillside.
  • Sometimes, there are mezzanine floors between floors.
  • Sometimes a parapet obscures the top floor(s).
  • Often the elevator does not go all the way to the top of the building. This is so that the winch machinery can be housed inside the building without any ugly projections.

Have any noders encountered real hidden 13th floors? I would be interested to hear stories.

The 13th floor convention only holds true in Anglo countries with the numeric fear of the number thirteen. In other countries, for example Italy, there is always a 13th floor. However since they are paranoid of the number 17 and take it to be of ill omen many Italian skyscrapers have no seventeenth floor.

Film released in 1999, directed by Josef Rusnak, starring Craig Bierko and Gretchen Mol. Running time is 1hr 45 mins. MPAA Classification: R

Synopsis: scientists create a lifelike computer-simulated world where avatars believe they are truly human, oblivious to any real existence outside of their realm...

The film opens in 1937 Los Angeles with a distinguished looking man named Hammond Fuller (Armin Mueller-Stahl) finishing off an evening at an exclusive hotel. He pays a hooker, leaves a sealed letter with a bartender, then goes home to his wife. Once in bed, he returns to the real world of 1999, departing from the computer simulation he has been visiting. Fuller has discovered something startling during his travels in the virtual world, but, before he can convey the information to his friend and co-worker, Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko), he is murdered. Hall, who is Fuller's primary beneficiary, is the chief suspect in the killing, and things become more complicated when Fuller's daughter, Jane (Gretchen Mol), arrives from Paris to visit her father. Meanwhile, Douglas is certain that the information to clear him of wrongdoing can be found in the simulation, so, armed only with his wits, he pays a visit to 1937 Los Angeles even as Detective Larry McBain (Dennis Haysbert) builds a case against him.

Visually, The Thirteenth Floor is striking, although it's not nearly as impressive as The Matrix. 1937 Los Angeles is presented as a monument to nostalgia, based as it is on the memories of a man (Fuller) instead of the historical reality. The director muted the color schemes of both eras (an approach that foreshadows the film's final twist. 1937 is tinted by muddy browns that offer an almost black-and-white flavor. 1999 is slanted towards grays and blues. Rarely is there even a splash of a brighter colour. This aspect of the movies connects each era in a manner which is entirely appropriate on far more than the just the visual level.

In terms of originality, the Thirteenth Floor comes in first. The story is based on Simulacron-3, a story by Daniel Galouye, which came out years ago. The special effects are so-so, but again, this is not a special effects movie. The Thirteenth Floor is more of a stylish movie. Many of the sets used for the present day are somewhat lacking, but the sets used for 1930s Los Angeles are quite simply sumptuous, oozing panache. The power of this movie is best expressed when as Hall looks around in wonder at what is around him, the viewer is compelled to wonder also.

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