Times Square Ball Has Ties to Sparks

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The New Year's Eve Ball that drops in New York's Times Square descends with a little bit of Sparks, Nev., tucked inside.

Tripp Plastics helped build the latest version of the dazzling ball by constructing the 672 plastic housings for the 9,576 Phillips light-emitting diodes.

And the dozen workers at the northern Nevada plant signed their names to the inner workings that will never been seen behind the glittering Waterford crystal lenses.

The LEDs make the ball the brightest, heaviest, most technological sphere in the 100-year history of the Times Square ball.

"Bright just doesn't say it," said Al Grinsell, new product development manager for Tripp.

"When it's fired up on high power, you can't stand to look at it. Even wearing welder's goggles, the light from the ball seems to knock you back against the wall."

Tripp makes plastic products for the health care, sign, automotive and gaming industries. The "candle" atop slot machines which summon a change person or casino manager was invented Wally Tripp, the firm's late founder.

Tripp and casino magnate Bill Harrah also invented the rabbit-ears Keno machines in use around the world, and the company makes the ornamental tops for slot and poker machines that set the games' themes, whether it's Elvis, "Star Wars" or a TV show.

The Times Square ball was an ideal project for Tripp, Grinsell said. "We like it when a business brings us an assembly or a part and needs a quick turnaround and low volume," he said.

"In this case they gave a drawing which we modified, did a computer model, cut the tools (molds), made the parts and put the assembly together in a matter of days."

The ball is 6 feet in diameter and is twice as bright as the previous sphere. The LEDs replaced the 600 Halogen and incandescent bulbs of the previous incarnation.

It is also more energy efficient and can be lit with the same amount of electricity it takes to power 10 toasters, according to the Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment, co-organizers of the Times Square New Year's Eve event.

The icon has had many versions since a team of burly laborers lowered the first Times Square ball down a flagpole to celebrate the arrival of 1907.

The first ball was made of iron and wood, weighed 700 pounds and had 100 25-watt bulbs. The tradition was suspended in 1942 and 1943 to observe the World War II blackout. The ball was remade with aluminum in 1955 and slimmed down to 150 pounds. It was converted into a giant apple to celebrate the "I Love New York" campaign of the 1980s and it got strobes and computer controls in 1995.

The Waterford Crystal Co. redesign came for the millennium celebration in 2000.