MIDTOWN — 2012 has arrived in Times Square — at least in number form.
The ‘2’ numeral that will replace the ‘1’ in the 2012 high above Times Square on New Year’s Eve was rolled onto Seventh Avenue on the back of a flatbed truck Wednesday afternoon, marking the first ceremonial step in the lead-up to the city’s biggest party of the year.
“This is the little ritual that begins the big ritual,” said Times Square Alliance President Tim Tompkins, after setting the numeral’s bulbs aglow in the Times Square Visitor Center, where it will be on display until Dec. 27.
Combined, the two seven-foot-tall ‘2’s, ‘0’ and ‘1’ that will eventually sit atop One Times Square contain a total of 526 LED bulbs, which remain alight all year.
"It’s literally the most-watched place on the planet and the most watched sign on the planet," Tompkins said.
Jeffrey Straus, the president of Countdown Entertainment, which executive produces the annual event, said the ball drop has come a long way since he started working on the ceremony 17 years ago.
“When I started, it was six men with ropes, a stopwatch and incandescent light bulbs,” said Straus, who said the team used to use an atomic clock in Colorado to make sure their timing was precise.
Today, he said, the whole drop is coordinated using advanced GPS technology and computers, and uses the lowest-energy LED lights.
“It’s automated to the second,” he said.
Straus said that, even though he’s done it many times, being part of the world's most-watched show never gets old.
“It is surreal,” he said. “When those confetti fall and we’re all counting down as a world community… that’s an amazing moment.”
Tourists visiting the center, who were among the first to see the numeral aglow, were impressed to see it so close.
“It’s fabulous. I think it looks beautiful. It’s bright, really illuminating,” said Seth Bixson, 56, from Long Island, who was visiting the city with his son Jeremy, 18, and friend, Arlyn Rayfield, from New Jersey.
At first Rayfield seemed unimpressed.
“It looks like a two,” she interjected.
“It’s not just a two! It’s a beautiful two,” rebutted Bixson, who said he’s been to see the ball drop in person twice — once as a teenager to ring in 1973 and once with his family in 2007 — and usually watches the ball drop on TV.
The next step in the New Year preparations will come on Dec. 27, when Waterford Crystal will install the crystal panels on the New Year’s ball.
The ball will then be tested on Friday Dec. 30 at noon, with the ball drop ceremony set to begin at 6 p.m. the following evening, with performances by a host of stars including teen heartthrob Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga.