PHOENIX - Televised images of New York City's glittery ball drop have become inextricably linked with New Year's Eve. But Times Square isn't the only place to ring in the new year with an object dropping at midnight.
Las Cruces, N.M., is spicing up New Year's Eve with its first chili drop. In Miami, a 35-foot neon orange will light up Wednesday night, while Atlanta and Nashville will mark the start of 2015 with peach and music note drops.
In Arizona, the celebratory New Year's Eve drops include a pine cone, cowboy boot, and playing card. Officials in cities with Times Square-styled celebrations have found that the events are great ways to draw people to their downtowns - often with accompanying fireworks displays and concerts - while embracing their heritage.
"It's about raising the level of visibility downtown and doing things downtown that don't go on elsewhere in the city," said Andy Hume, coordinator of downtown development for Las Cruces. "For quite a long time, our downtown was on life support, and that's putting it nicely."
The city is also taking a more interactive approach by asking residents the age-old New Mexico question: red or green? Las Cruces residents have been voting through an online poll on whether the chili's LED lights should shine red or green, organizer Russ Smith said.
"Since red and green is so common in the vocabulary here in New Mexico, it blends perfectly with the interest of the people," Smith said. "It has created curiosity and interest on the part of the public."
Around the country, the countdown-to-midnight events are quirky and sometimes bizarre. Objects range from a watermelon to walleye to a live opossum.
The the last 20 years, the town of Brasstown, N.C., has used a live animal in its New Year's Eve Possum Drop. But this year, after challenges from animal-rights protesters, the organizer says he will no longer use a live opossum - instead, it will be a road-kill opossum or perhaps a pot of opossum stew.
Flagstaff, Ariz., celebrates the new year with a 6-foot pine cone that drops from a downtown hotel twice - once at 10 p.m. at an event geared toward families and again at midnight. In nearby Prescott, the city began dropping a 6-foot spurred cowboy boot above downtown's Whiskey Row four years ago in a nod to its western culture.
Officials in the Arizona town of Show Low deal a deuce of clubs card on New Year's. The card represents how the town, which is about 180 miles northeast of Phoenix, supposedly got its name. A settler won a ranch through a card game where the object was to show the lowest card, hence the two of clubs.
Since 2010, a 7-by-4-foot card has dropped from a crane in a downtown park.
"We seem to get a steady group of people each year that come out for that," said Steve North, who oversees economic development for Show Low. "It's getting some play around the state. We'll likely get some people who will travel up here."