New Year's Eve Times Square Ball: What Goes Into The World's Most Famous Ball Drop?

By Josh Lieberman on December 31, 2013 4:01 PM EST

Times Square Ball
The Times Square ball has gone from 700 pounds in 1907 to almost 12,000 pounds today. (Photo: timessquareball.net)

New Year's Eve is upon us, which means the world-famous Times Square ball is set to drop. The Times Square ball drop is an event attended by over a million New Yorkers and tourists (okay, it's mostly tourists) and watched by millions of people the world over. The tradition goes back to 1907, and the Times Square ball has come a long way from the humble five-foot, 700-pound iron-and-wood ball it was in 1907 to the monstrosity it is today.

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The 2014 Times Square ball is a 12-foot geodesic sphere covered with 2,688 Waterford Crystal triangles. Waterford Crystals have been adorning the Times Square ball since 2000, but this year's ball features a new Waterford design called Gift of Imagination, featuring "a series of intricate wedge cuts that appear to be endless mirrored reflections of each other inspiring our imagination with a kaleidoscope of colorful patterns on the Ball."

But the crystals are only half the fun. The other half, of course, are the lights. The 2014 Times Square ball has 672 LED light modules attached to its aluminum frame. Each light module contains 48 LEDs--12 red, 12 blue, 12 green, and 12 white--which comes out to an astounding 32,256 lights capable of creating billions of patterns.

All those thousands of crystals and lights add up to one heavy object. Because of all these doodads, the Times Square Ball has put on some weight since 1907--it now comes in at 11,875 pounds. (But it carries its weight well.)

Those tens of thousands of lights add up to a lot of energy use, too. This year, for the first time ever, the Times Square ball is being powered by energy generated from bicycles. It's a fitting first, as New York's Citi Bike program finally launched this year. Last week, six stationary Citi Bikes were set up in midtown Manhattan, with New Yorkers and tourists hopping on the specially outfitted bikes. Each bike was hooked up to a generator, 12-volt battery, and a computer to track how much power the bike generated. The ball will require 20 fully charged 12-volt batteries, or 15,000 watts.

"We're seeing most people get on between two to five minutes," said Ned Flint of Pierce Promotions, the company that organized the bike stations. "We had one guy stay on for the whole hour and he hit that 75 watt mark. But, most people generate one to four watts."

(A note for sticklers: the batteries are not directly powering the Times Square ball. Rather, the batteries will be connected to the city's electric grid, where it will offset the 15,000 watts required to power the Times Square ball. You can watch a video about the pedal powering stations below.)

While Times Square hosts the world's most famous ball drop, it won't be the tallest this year. That honor goes to Bangkok, Thailand, where the hotel Tower Club at lebua will drop a New Year's Eve ball 65 stories. The spectacle will be visible from a mile away, and the 872-foot ball drop will dwarf New York's 475-foot drop.

New Yorker's shouldn't get too proprietary about the whole New Year's Eve ball drop being their thing. Although New Yorkers have been hosting a Times Square Ball drop since the iron-and-wood ball descended on December 31, 1907, the concept of using a ball drop to indicate time dates back to 19th century England. In 1833, the Royal Observatory at Greenwich installed a "time-ball" that dropped every afternoon at one o'clock so that ship captains could set their navigational instruments by it. The Royal Observatory ball is actually still dropped every afternoon, but presumably ship captains now have good enough technology that they don't have to stand around watching a sphere descend to know what time it is. (For other New Year's Eve drops around the world, check out Wikipedia's wonderfully titled article "List of objects dropped on New Year's Eve.")

And with that, Happy New Year!

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