National News

New Times Square ball to hang around for Halloween

Posted November 10, 2008
Updated November 15, 2008

— Next month, it'll be the famous New Year's Eve ball. Next year, it could be the Great Pumpkin.

A bigger, brighter Waterford crystal ball will usher in 2009 above Times Square, then remain in place all year to celebrate other holidays including Valentine's Day, the Fourth of July and Halloween, organizers said Monday.

"You won't have to be here on Dec. 31 anymore to see the Times Square ball," said Jeff Straus, president of Countdown Entertainment. "You can come any time now and it will be up there like a jewel, every day. And we expect to have special programming for special days."

The new ball, which was being assembled Monday at a studio in Yonkers, is 12 feet in diameter and weighs nearly 6 tons. Last year's ball was 6 feet across and less than a ton.

The flagpole that was used for previous balls wasn't considered sturdy enough, so a new shaft was built, and steel bracing was added to the building beneath it, 1 Times Square.

"We pretty much had to redesign the top of the building," Straus said.

The ball is a geodesic dome built of 2,468 Waterford crystal triangles, each etched with a stylized starburst or a stylized angel, Waterford spokesman Peter Cheyney said.

The made-in-Ireland triangles, about 5 inches on a side and half an inch thick, combine to make a translucent ball that serves as a canvas for a computerized light show that will begin at about 6 p.m. New Year's Eve, six hours before the ball's minute-long descent marks the new year.

Inside, the ball is filled with electric cables, heat sinks and fans, but outside it seems fragile. At its highest, the ball will be 475 feet above Times Square.

"When we first got involved with the idea of a crystal New Year's ball in 1999, our lawyer said, `Are you crazy? What if it breaks?'" Cheyney said. "But we've tested this ball for winds up to 140 mph, for temperatures ranging from minus 20 to 120. They're crystals, but they're tough."

Cheyney brought 50 spare triangles, just in case, and has needed one or two of them when workers screwed the crystals onto the aluminum frame a little too tightly.

Doug Lehman, of Teaneck, N.J., was screwing on crystals - carefully - Monday morning. Lehman, a worker for Hudson Scenic Studio, a theatrical construction company, said he'd been to several New Year's Eve celebrations in Times Square, "and it's great to get an up-close look like this."

"They say a billion people will see this," he said. "If I go this year it'll be something special."

Next to him, another worker was attaching cables - there seemed to be miles of cables - to the back of the crystals. Each triangle has 12 energy-efficient, long-lived LED lights behind it; three each of red, white, blue and green, which can be combined into 16 million colors.

On Monday, technicians were running through several of the programs that might be seen on New Year's Eve - stars, a rainbow, a waving American flag.

Brett Andersen, of Focus Lighting Inc., waxed poetic about how his computers could represent daybreak on the ball: "deep purples and blues, then trending toward violets and reds, then sunrise in amber and the brighter colors."

It's the seventh ball in the 101-year history of ball-dropping at Times Square. It's being paid for privately, said publicist Thomas Chiodo. Straus estimated the cost at several million dollars.

The New Year's Eve light program will run itself once it's turned on, Anderson said, but he'll be up on the roof anyway with all the computer equipment. A second server will back up the main server in case anything goes wrong, and a default program will kick in if the second server fails, he said.

"We have to be prepared," he said. "If there's a mistake, everybody will see it. I mean everybody."


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