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"Surprise! Empire State Building Switches to LED"
While New York slept, the Empire State Building switched on a new light show with the capability to produce millions of color combinations and effects.

By Verena Dobnik


In the middle of the night, as most of New York slept, something big and bright lit up the Manhattan skyline for just seconds-a tightly kept secret to all but a handful of people.

It was a tiny test for the huge public surprise four days later: the flipping of a switch at the Empire State Building to turn on its dancing new LED lights. They burst from the skyscraper while synchronized with R&B star Alicia Keys singing "Empire State of Mind" on nationwide radio.

The LED system has "16.7 million color possibilities, in digital combinations of ripples, sparkles, sweeps and strobes," says Phil O'Donnell, of Burlington, Mass.-based Philips Color Kinetics that's responsible for the system and worked with a resident lighting designer. "It's the sum of all possibilities - a huge palette."

The old lights came in only 10 colors.

From Manhattan and the Bronx to Staten Island and even New Jersey, "there were hundreds of thousands of people on the streets looking up, filming and videoing, clustered on street corners," when the new lights came on, said Anthony Malkin, whose family controls the iconic Art Deco building.

In an interview with The Associated Press at his office, he glowed with pleasure describing Monday night's inaugural light show.

Keys also sang "Girl On Fire" from her new CD.

After all, the 102-story skyscraper "has always been a symbol of what's possible in New York, and all the dreams that can come true in this city that never sleeps," Keys, a New York native, said before her performance, which was ready on tracks while she watched from a Manhattan studio.

Malkin and his technical team wanted to test the new lighting system with as few people noticing as possible and chose early Thanksgiving morning.

Good luck, in the middle of Manhattan, with people walking around even at 2:30 a.m.

That seemed the best moment, after most bars close and before dawn.

"We decided to do it facing west, in very short bursts between 2:30 a.m. and 3 a.m., because we knew we didn't have a camera trained on us from there," Malkin said.

Apparently, the secret test worked. No images of the Empire State Building alight that night appeared anywhere, as far as Malkin knows.

To stage the show, he worked with Clear Channel radio, which has 239 million monthly listeners in the United States.

The lights are part of a larger effort to modernize the 81-year-old edifice that is undergoing a more than half a billion-dollar renovation that includes making it "green." The computerized LED system will cut energy consumption by more than half, while delivering light and vibrancy superior to the old floodlights, which have huge timpani drum-size lenses that had to be changed every so often, O'Donnell said.

They may still have nostalgic value to some who watched them light up New York City for every special occasion from Christmas to the Fourth of July.

They were part of "the grande dame of the New York skyline, now state-of-the-art, but still stately," says Malkin, adding that the light show was "a gift we gave to the world, these lights. We don't get paid for this."

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, with a spectacular view of the new World Trade Center and New York Harbor, a vacant space under reconstruction on the building's 72nd floor was filled with the retired floodlights, sitting side by side in long lines, veterans of years of New York weather. What will be done with them is also a secret - for now.

One old light will not be discarded in favor of a 21st century novelty: a red beacon - "half the size of a Volkswagen Beetle," as Malkin puts it - that serves as a warning signal for aircraft constantly flying over New York City.



1. What is the primary purpose of the first sentence of the article?
A) To explain that New Yorkers are commonly asleep in the middle of the night.
B) To mislead readers into thinking the light flash was some sort of attack
C) To build suspense and curiosity so that the reader wants to know more"
D) To suggest that there is a secret organization working late at night at the Empire State Building

2. The phrase "huge palette" in Paragraph 3 is most likely
A) A metaphor for the scope and range of combinations the new LED lights have
B) A literal explanation of the shape of the new lights, which form an artist's palette
C) An extreme over exaggeration meant to draw more onlookers to the new display
D) A way to emphasize the amount of lights, since 16.7 could never fit onto a palette

3. What does Alicia Keys suggest the Empire State building is a symbol of?
A) A way for Americans to have a landmark similar to other major global cities
B) The iconic American capacity to push boundaries and break new ground in art and architecture.
C) Lights that are always on due to the number of New Yorkers who work night shifts
D) That any person can use the new lights as a way to make a wish, as people do with other world landmarks.

4. To help keep the new lights secret during their initial test, all precautions were taken EXCEPT:
A) Conducting the test in the middle of the night
B) Conducting the test facing west, away from cameras
C) Conducting the test in short bursts, so that there was no sustained lighting
D) Conducting the test with additional sound effects to distract anyone who might be on the street

5. What was the primary reason Malkin and his team choose to test the new LED lights in the middle of the night?
A) Because the lights are impossible to see in the daylight
B) So that no spies would be awake to steal the new lighting design
C) Because his team only works at night, to enhance their creativity
D) So that when they made the formal reveal to the city and world, it would be a true surprise

6. How does the new LED display contribute to the Empire State Building's efforts to become more "green"?
A) The lights will be bright enough to reflect into the building, allowing less lighting to be used indoors
B) The new lighting will consume almost half the amount of energy the old lights did
C) The lights can become green in color, to cover the entire building
D) The lights will be solar-powered, generating their own electricity.

7. The article suggests that some older people might miss the old lights. Why is this?
A) The elderly who have poorer eyesight have an easier time seeing the old lights
B) The older generation might not understand the technology behind the new LED lighting
C) Those who used to work in the Empire State Building will no longer be able to recognize it without the old, larger lights
D) The old lights represented momentous occasions in American history, and may still have nostalgic value

8. In the second-to-last paragraph, the old floodlights are described as "veterans." What is the most suitable explanation for this word in context?
A) The old lights have worked through the years, despite harsh weather conditions and continual use for special occassions
B) The old lights have been up through many previous wars, making them literal veterans
C) The old lights were dedicated to the Empire State Building to memorialize war heroes
D) The old lights were only used before to celebrate Veteran's Day

9. Currently, how many of the former lights are set to be preserved for a specific purpose?
A) All, to replace other major lights around the city
B) None, they are all set to be discarded entirely
C) Five, spaced across Central Park for more light and better security
D) One, to serve as a warning beacon for aircraft

10. Why might it be important for the Empire State's global image to replace its lighting?
A) To represent that it is both environmentally conscious as well as technologically advanced
B) To prove that other world landmarks are not as spectacular
C) To suggest that despite its being decades-old, the Empire State Building is still relevant
D) To provide New Yorkers and visitors with better entertainment



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