It was snowing in New York City at 5 pm on December 30, 2016, when I stepped out of the Port Authority at Eight Avenue and 41st Street into the traffic of people, buses and cars at the edge of Times Square. How appropriate! Frozen water crystals are falling from the evening sky, as I am on my way to a pre-New Year’s Eve, behind-the-scenes viewing of the nearly six-ton, twelve-foot diameter “Big Crystal Ball!”
I weaved my way through crowds of pedestrians and metal street barricades to the entrance to Walgreens’ pharmacy-convenience store at One Times Square. Here, I joined a queue of about 20 others excitedly waiting to board an elevator to the Fifth Floor. “Have your ID ready,” the security men and women reminded us. It wasn’t until just a week before, that I had been invited, thanks to a travel organization to which I belong, to view the famous Times Square ball. I had no idea until now that the Ball is actually now a year-round attraction sparkling above Times Square in full public view January through December.
On the Fifth Floor, I gave my name to a woman at a desk in charge of pages of computer print-outs, listing names of anticipated guests, alphabetically divided by colorful post-it tabs. Even though I had RSVP’d, I was still surprised and relieved that my name was there. The woman checked off my name and handed me an LED-lit purple and yellow top hat announcing “2017!” She then directed me to wait in another room, where I was handed a hologram admission ticket telling me I was in “Group #19.”
The Fifth Floor waiting room was like a classroom. There were lots of plastic chairs and some desks, and some guy was promoting virtual reality headsets. I tried one on for the first time, thinking it would be a VR experience of Times Square on New Year’s Eve. In fact, it showed me an area hotel room, and was kind of a disappointment.
Finally, my group was called. We were huddled into another elevator to the 22nd Floor. Here, we climbed two more floors of steel staircases cramped by cement walls before emerging onto the roof of One Times Square. Once again, the cool air began to blow on my face. Again, the crystalline snowflakes fell on my head, and in front of me was the magnificent Ball! I was amazed at the color and design variations. For some reason, I thought the ball would be sparkling white. In fact, it displays a palate of more than 16 million vibrant colors and billions of patterns that create a spectacular kaleidoscope effect.
The ball is made of 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles that are bolted to 672 LED modules, attached to an aluminum frame. It is illuminated by 32,256 Philips Luxeon LEDs. Each LED module contains 48 Philips Luxeon Rebel LEDs - 12 red, 12 blue, 12 green, and 12 white for a total of 8,064 of each color.
For Times Square 2017, 288 of the Waterford triangles introduce the new Gift of Kindness design consisting of a circle of rosettes symbolizing unity with the fronds reaching out in an expression of kindness. Another 288 display the Gift of Wonder design, created by a faceted starburst inspiring our sense of wonder. A third 288 form the Gift of Fortitude design, where diamond cuts on either side of a crystal pillar, represent the inner attributes of resolve, courage and spirit necessary to triumph over adversity. The remaining 1,824 crystal triangles compose the Gift of Imagination design, with a series of intricate wedge cuts that are mirrored reflections of each other inspiring our imagination.
While revelers began celebrating New Year’s Eve in Times Square in 1904, the first ball drop was actually in 1907 – ushering in 1908. Even though the 100th anniversary was celebrated in 2007, 2016 actually marks the 107th year of the ball’s decent from a Times Square flag pole, because the years 1942 and 1943 were dark, due to World War II.
The first Times Square New Year's Eve Ball was made of iron and wood and adorned with one hundred 25-watt light bulbs. It was 5 feet in diameter and weighed 700 pounds. It was built by a young immigrant metalworker named Jacob Starr, and for most of the twentieth century the company he founded in 1897, sign maker Artkraft Strauss was responsible for lowering the Ball.
January 6, 2017