In 1988, The New York Times Magazine ran a piece on a man named J. Ira Harris, who, as the story put it, "is simply crazy about the number 13." Here's how "crazy" he is:
Harris's license plate and his home and office telephones contain 13's. He was born on April 13th, has often bet successfully on the numbers 1, 3, and 13, and once sent a bill to a client for $1,313,313.13 for an acquisition deal.
Harris isn't alone in his number-based obsession. Numbers have a strange grasp on people's lives, thanks to the human tendency to ascribe deeper meaning to numbers. Some people make a wish at 11:11. Others believe that good things come in threes. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, sweet 16s. Some numbers are divine (seventh heaven) or are given divine connotations through math (the golden ratio, the Fibonacci Sequence). And, of course, there's pop culture: James Bond is 007. Jim Carrey did something-or-other with the number 23. The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is... 42, which also happens to be the final number in the sequence in Lost (4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42). Twelve has found particular significance across cultural fields—there are 12 zodiac signs, 12 months in a year, 12 models of Cylons.
But 13? Thirteen's cultural meaning is a little more, well, sinister. Though triskaidekaphiliacs like Harris are not unheard of (here's looking at you, Taylor Swift), the number is most often associated with fear or superstition, mostly in Western culture. Thirteen is rooted in negative meaning, which can partly be traced to the Bible (Judas, who betrays Jesus, was the 13th guest at the Last Supper), as well as to pop culture. The horror franchise Friday the 13th capitalizes on the fear of the date itself, a phobia known as paraskevidekatriaphobia.