Elevator hacking

A recent comment on BLDGBLOG reminded me of a short article I read in The New Yorker, about elevator hacking, and whether or not such hacking is an urban myth.


In an old horror movie, for instance, there's a scene where the dastardly, evil psychiatrist gets into an elevator in his old, spooky mental hospital and he hits the button for the janitorial floor... Only it's not the janitorial floor at all, see, but where he keeps the real, poo-throwing lunatics. Nobody else knows about it; the floor is hidden in plain view.
It's the purloined floor.
In any case, the idea that you don't really know where your elevator might go is totally fascinating to me. It's like the opening scene in Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland, where the narrator can't tell if the elevator he's in is going up or down, or even moving at all... But then the doors open – and he may not have felt it, but he's clearly gone elsewhere. He's been vertically displaced.
Back to The New Yorker. "Supposedly," the author writes, "if an elevator passenger simultaneously presses the 'door close' button and the button for the floor he is trying to reach, he can override the requests of other passengers and of people waiting for the elevator on other floors. The elevator shifts into express mode, racing directly to the floor of his choosing..."
Despite the (suspicious?) denials of elevator-maintenance companies, one wonders what else might be possible in the world of elevator hacking. Could you... end up in another building? Or maybe go sideways, through the floor?
I was an intern once, in Washington DC, but the building I worked in was really two buildings in one: they'd been joined together (apparently), and so the floors didn't quite match-up. In other words, elevators on the west side of the building could reach floors 1, 2, and 4, but elevators on the east side could only go to floors 1, 2, and 3. Or however it was – it was ages ago.
But, you'd find yourself thinking, perhaps if I found a third bank of elevators, I could reach floors 6, and 7, and -8, and...? The mysticism of the elevator hack.
Things, of course, get even more complex when you consider the so-called space elevator they're trying to build right now. Which leads directly – like a hacked elevator – to the ultimate question: if you could hack it, where would you go?

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Anonymous Graham said...

I'll have to try that "door close" trick out. I wonder if there are any tricks to get to the floors that require a key to access.

Bonus points for the Hard-boiled Wonderland reference! ^_^

October 26, 2005 2:48 PM  
Blogger Alexander Trevi said...

And then there's the Coke Machine Hack. Which leads me to wonder if any domestic appliance can be hacked as well. If I were to flick the light switch on and off in some embedded morse code password, will my electricity consumption data be surrepticiously transfered to my neighbor's in the way Hannibal Lecter in Red Dragon were able to dial out for free from a dial-less telephone using just the gravity switch plungers? Your microwave hacked to irridiate burglars? When domestic architecture attacks. For every suburban ranch-style house, there's a Gregor Schneiderian house wanting to break loose.

October 26, 2005 3:10 PM  
Blogger Timo Tolonen said...

I remember reading about this as well.
This (somewhat dubious) source claims "Elevator Hacking" works on these models:

Elevators that have been tested and worked on:
Otis Elevators (All But The Ones Made In 1992),
Dover (Model Numbers: EL546 And ELOD862),
And Most Desert Elevators(All, But Model Numbers ELD5433 And ELF3655)


It reminds me of "Being John Malkovich" and floor 7½...

October 26, 2005 3:16 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Man, I totally meant to mention Being John Malkovich. Damn. But thanks for getting it in there.

And, Alex, it could be some new, undocumented paranoia: the constant, irrational belief that all your appliances can be hacked. Hermeneutics gone haywire. Your girlfriend wants to go to sleep but you're not tired: there's a ceiling fan, and you're turning it on, you're turning it off, you're turning it on, off, then on fast, then slow, then off, then on, then on fast, then on, then slow, then off... Because who knows, something might be about to happen.
Is that a lamp over there in the corner...? On, off, tap, turn, on, off, turn, tap, tap, on, turn, off... Because something might happen.
The appliance hacker. A new book by Oliver Sacks. Or - yes - a film about a clever serial killer: you're locked in a house with your bestfriend but there is a way out: you can hack the appliances and a door will open – but if you hack the wrong appliances... Saw III.

Meanwhile, Graham, the real trick will be getting onto floors that aren't listed. Or the elevator opens – onto another elevator. You step through into the other elevator and it begins – total architectural disorientation. Which building are we in, again...?

I remember when I was about 13 and I first found out that old Nintendo game, Contra, had a hack: up-down-up-down-left-right-left-right-a-b-start. If you did that before the game loaded, you'd start with every machine gun (or whatever). And I was amazed. Totally amazed. But if you could do that to an escalator...

October 26, 2005 4:52 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

If only you could hack your own voicemail, and uncover messages that were never left...

October 26, 2005 5:01 PM  
Blogger Alexander Trevi said...

Or...or...the unSafe Safe House, hacked to cure the most obssessive of obssessive compulsives. You wash your hands 100x per day? Compelled to lick the light switch everytime you see one? Well, in the OCD House, the faucet will run scalding hot water after it senses four consecutive washes in the span of half an hour and the entire light switch pad electroconducts when saliva is applied. You're afraid to go out? In the Agoraphobic House, windows and doors periodically open at a predetermined schedule but unknown to the occupant. The living room walls become less opage for certain hours of the day. Halloween Haunted House but with the seal of approval from the American Medical Association.

October 26, 2005 5:29 PM  
Blogger Timo Tolonen said...

And can you imagine the potentia to hack one of these puppies?

Pressing "left, left, right, right and up" to unlock something secrets gets a whole new meaning...

October 26, 2005 5:32 PM  
Blogger Alexander Trevi said...

Speaking of elevators and architecturally movies, in the opening scenes of Star Wars 3, as our dashing heroes and Senator Palapatin escape a fast de-orbiting battleship via an elevator shaft, that same interstitial space metamorphises into a diagonal chute then into a hallway then reverts all the way back again to an elevator shaft. Up, down, vertical, horizontal, left, right, forward, backward, all devoid of meaning, as it should be in space, no? This is perhaps the single most compelling architectural scene in the entire movie, or the entire series for that matter. A bravura in "spatial" effects not seen since 2001: A Space Odyssey.

October 26, 2005 5:55 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

It's funny, I was expecting an actual puppy when you said that... (Pressing what exactly?, I was thinking).
Alas: it's only a remote-controlled human. Been there. Done that.
But the Puppy Hacker...

And, Alex, that's a whole new terrain: hacking the elevator shaft itself.

Meanwhile, I saw a thing going round Nettime a while back about hacking pedestrian crossings, zebra crossings; if you do something or other, something happens. You only get side-swiped by three cars instead of four, perhaps. "Sir, are you ok?"
I'll look it up - or someone send a link if you have it - and I'll BLDGBLOG it.

October 26, 2005 6:05 PM  
Blogger brand ave said...

There's also the "travelator" (my memory fails me. That's what it was called, no?) from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, too...

October 26, 2005 6:25 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Chris, that's insane, I literally just posted a comment to your blog. Literally. Go check it out, we posted simultaneously. Weird.
Anyway, yeah, I was thinking of the Willy Wonka thing, too. Just didn't put it in. Then there's that sort of deviant elevator moment in Dark Water from last summer. With Jennifer Connelly. She goes up one floor too high, after the doors mysteriously close... and then the pipes start leaking and all hell breaks loose.

October 26, 2005 6:46 PM  
Blogger brand ave said...

Whoa. Indeed you did! I'll be damned. Thanks!

a bit of a tangent but was reminded of this just now:

http://newmediastudies.com/art/mk.htm

October 27, 2005 12:24 PM  
Anonymous Megan said...

I am so impressed by you, and I'm loving your blog.

October 27, 2005 1:36 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Why thank you, Megan.
And, Chris, that link is crazy, it's going on the blog soon.
Also, I just previewed this comment, and I'm somehow logged-in 7 hours earlier than the previous comment. At least on my computer. Hmm...
(Perhaps one of us got off the elevator on the wrong floor...)

October 27, 2005 1:43 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Oh, boo - the time changed the minute I posted. Dammit.

October 27, 2005 1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That "door close" + floor might work on some elevators, but the door close button is used in key override mode usually. Elevators recall to the main floor when building fire alarms go off. To use the elevator when it has been recalled, the building maintenance crews have override keys. With the elevator keyed to override, you push the floor you want, which lights, then push the door close until the doors shut and the elevator takes off. When you get to the floor you must push the door open button to open the door. If you let it go before the doors open all the way they slam closed assuming that you've been overcome by smoke or fire. [Although you could take the elevator to the floor with the fire alarm, standard procedure is to go two floors below and approach the fire floor through the emergency stairwell checking the stairwell door for heat and so on.] In regular operation the door close and door open don't do anything. Of course, this is for high-rise buildings which west of the Mississippi in the US are defined as buildings over 7 stories high. The reason is that ladders on fire trucks only reach to the 7th floor.
I have seen elevators in some buildings that combined offices and condos that you had to type a 3 or 4 digit code using the floor buttons to go to a residential floor. Usually that type of security is handled with access cards, though.

April 08, 2006 1:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You want to know the shit about elevators? Well here is a hack that really works. Or at least it does at the college I go to. I was in the elevator and there were three floors, 1, 2, & 3. However, below the 1 was a botton labled B for the basment. My friend and i had countless times tried the botton in hopes that it would light up and take us to forbiden basebent. Our luck never prevailed...until one day. I was on the third floor and was going down to the first floor. Being the impatient shit i was I held the close door botton to bypass anyone on the second floor. (Yes I believe that hack works too, but you can not just press it at the same time i am pretty sure you must hold it in. When I was in Washington D.C. I got on an elevator with an oporator and he held in the botton and we went like thirty floors with out stoppoing once). Anyways back to the story. So this was an oldder elevator and it was taking a while so agian in hopes of making it to the basement i pressed the B botton and to my surprise it lit up! The door opened on the first floor and i waited for it to close. Then it took me to the basement and opened. I waited once more and went up to the first floor. Once I got there i tried the B botton only and it did not light up. Next I held in the close door botton and pressed the B botton. This time it lit up. So to access restricted floors just hold in the close door botton and press the intended floor. Try it, I am not sure, though, if it works on all elevators. Like I said i have only tried it at my college and it seems to work on all there.

March 27, 2007 9:32 AM  

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