Every year, billions of people across the globe (myself included) flip on their TVs to count down to the new year and watch as the Ball slips down its pole. It's been a tradition that's happened on the roof of One Times Square since 1907.
Each year, the ball changes ever so slightly — so little that most people wouldn't even notice a difference. I braved torrential rains into the heart of New York City to see what those alterations would be for the 2012 New Year's Eve Ball, which is decked out with 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles and carries the theme of Let There Be Friendship this year.
From down on the streets, the New Year's Eve Ball that now sits permanently above Times Square all year round looks the size of a basketball. You don't realize what a looming structure it is until you get right down under it. It's like the Death Star, only friendlier and without all the planet-vaporizing lasers.
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The Light, It's So Bright
The New Year's Eve Ball weighs exactly 11,875 pounds. That's the heft of 2,688 crystal triangles bolted onto the geodesic sphere, shining with the intensity of 672 LED modules (each module has 48 Philips Luxeon Rebel LEDs, for a total of 32,256 individual LEDs) reflecting off a sturdy aluminum frame.
Another thing you might not notice are the colors the Ball is capable of emitting. The average tourist won't notice much of a difference when the Ball changes colors, but it can produce over 16 million colors with billions of unique patterns — plenty of which you can see in our gallery down below.
Like a big, bulbous dollar bill, everything has a hidden meaning: 288 of the Waterford Crystals form Let There Be Friendship using a pattern of people holding hands around the world. Another 288 crystals create a Let There Be Courage ribbon medal design. Another 288 crystals form Let There Be Love — a cascade of hearts. An additional 864 crystals form a Let There be Joy design featuring an angel with uplifting arms. The final 960 crystals create a Let There Be Light design showing a radiating sunburst.
Behind The Scenes
In the last 102 years, the Ball's been upgraded a total of seven times, each with more lightbulbs — now LEDs — than before. Compared to the original Ball's 100 lightbulbs and 700-pound weight, 2012's version is pretty much the Hulk. According to Regan Iglesia, vice president at Waterford Crystal, it's gotten so heavy that the roof has been completely reinforced several times over in order to hold it and its 77-foot pole, which is also pretty weighty. With over 1 million people crowded together in Times Square waiting for six hours or more in the freezing cold for the Ball to drop (not to mention the over 1 billion TV viewers), Waterford and company can't take any chances.
Fun fact: There are men in green jumpsuits that move the Ball up and down on a daily basis to ensure it's always in working order. (I didn't get to see them, unfortunately). Another interesting thing is how you get up to the Ball. To do so, you need to enter the Walgreens pharmacy on street level and head up via special elevators. You'd never think that the way up is through a Walgreens — it's like finding a secret lair on the other side of a telephone booth.
We pressed Iglesia on whether the Ball is controlled by a Mac or a PC, but he wouldn't give us a definitive answer. Maybe the Ball runs on Linux. Wouldn't that be nerdy? I'd like to think it's a Mac, but let's face it, most of Times Square's electronic billboards run on Windows (even worse, Windows XP).
Here's an infographic that Philips produced on the New Year's Eve Ball. (Philips is the official partner of the Times Square Ball.)
All photos taken by Raymond Wong for DVICE.