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O.C. Puts Its Spin on the Ball Drop

Times Staff Writer

Weird objects plummet from the sky on New Year’s Eve.

In Tempe, Ariz., a 200-pound tortilla chip plops into a 15-foot jar of salsa at midnight, putting a Southwestern spin on New York City’s famous ball drop in Times Square.

Dillsburg, Pa., rings in the new year with a giant falling pickle. Raleigh, N.C., lowers a 1,250-pound acorn. And other cities usher in Jan. 1 with plunging possums, bologna, stuffed goats, lollipops and illuminated walleye pikes.

Now Orange County is jumping on the bandwagon.

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As part of a New Year’s Eve concert at the Orange County Fairgrounds, a 250-pound electrified orange will descend from a fireworks-spewing tower at the stroke of midnight.

Organizers had envisioned stranger scenarios.

In one, a stuntman dressed as an orange would have dived into a tank of water, said event planner Dennis Condon. Another pitch called for a jumbo orange to be escorted onstage by a line of chorus girls.

“We let our imaginations run rampant,” said Condon, whose credits include “Laser Disco Mania,” a 1970s production featuring fire-spitting robots at the Orange County Fair. “We even thought about dumping a ton of real oranges onto the audience. Believe it or not, we weren’t high when we brainstormed all this.”

Ultimately, Condon’s team decided to follow in the footsteps of Miami and Orlando, Fla., which pioneered the use of oversized oranges for New Year’s Eve extravaganzas.

The next problem was figuring out how to build the thing. Proposals for a $40,000 fiberglass orange and a $70,000 Las Vegas-style neon sign were rejected as too expensive. Another losing bid came from an Oregon company that created a huge geodesic peach for Atlanta’s New Year’s Eve bash.

The winning design was a $20,000 ribbed aluminum sphere studded with strobes and orange lights. Construction of the 6-foot citrus began three weeks ago at a secret location in the San Fernando Valley, Condon said. The contraption was given a trial run Thursday evening.

On Saturday, after concert performances by Joan Jett, Sugar Ray, the Psychedelic Furs, English Beat, Berlin and other artists, the high-tech robo-orange will slide down an 80-foot tower.

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“We also considered lowering it with a crane or flying it overhead with a helicopter,” Condon said.

The sinking orb will be accompanied by about 10 minutes of fireworks, lasers and videos. Confetti and beach balls will shower an expected crowd of 10,000 to 20,000 revelers, who are paying $65 each to dine and dance at the “Orange Drop” festival. The fireworks and giant orange should also be visible from surrounding neighborhoods, according to an event spokeswoman.

Despite its movie-industry pedigree, Southern California has never established a trademark New Year’s Eve ritual. The biggest fiasco was Los Angeles’ multimillion-dollar Y2K extravaganza on Dec. 31, 1999. Hyped by city officials as proof that L.A. would be the entertainment nucleus of the world during the new millennium, the bash was supposed to attract hundreds of thousands of people.

Instead, attendance at the rain-splattered outdoor celebrations was so sparse that then-Mayor Richard Riordan dubbed his fellow citizens “a bunch of sissies.”

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Subsequent efforts have been smaller in scale. Raves held at the Coliseum and Sports Arena drew 40,000 people in 2000. And a Hollywood Boulevard bash billed as the West Coast equivalent of the one at Times Square, complete with confetti-firing cannons, pulled in 15,000.

The link between falling objects and time began in 1829, when the British Royal Navy built a seaside “time ball” that dropped at noon so ships could synchronize their clocks. The idea spread around the globe.

In 1907, New York’s Times Square adapted the concept for its New Year’s Eve celebration. Copycats and parodies followed.

Washington once dropped a giant “Love” stamp from a postal building. Brasstown, N.C., achieved notoriety for its annual possum plunge, in which a live possum inside a plexiglass cage is lowered from a gas station roof to a crowd of onlookers wearing T-shirts emblazoned with: “Possum: the other other white meat.”

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The biggest concentration of offbeat time balls seems to be in Pennsylvania, judging from news accounts.

In addition to Dillsburg’s 8-foot papier-mache pickle, Wilkes-Barre drops a giant diamond, Harrisburg lowers a lighted strawberry, Hummelstown releases a 9-foot wooden lollipop, Mechanicsburg drops a 10-foot wrench, Falmouth lets down a stuffed goat and Lancaster lowers a jumbo rose.

Some time balls are edible. The 120-pound bologna in Lebanon, Pa., is reportedly donated to a local rescue mission after its nosedive.

And Tempe’s gonzo tortilla chip is cooked for two hours in a custom-built deep fryer filled with 600 gallons of soybean oil.

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As for Orange County’s leviathan fruit, Condon advises against taking a bite.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Midnight descent

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A 250-pound electrified orange will drop from a tower as part of a New Year’s Eve celebration at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.

Orange Drop celebration

* The ball drop will be accompanied by lasers, fireworks, a video and rock music.

* Up to 20,000 revelers are expected to pay $65 each to attend the festival.

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* The aluminum ball is about 6 feet tall and weighs 250 pounds.

* The ball, which contains more than 400 lights and strobes, is suspended from an 80-foot tower above the back of the Main Stage.

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Sources: Dennis Condon, Times reporting

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