Cashing in on Nuclear Testing

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HDAY.pngBy Adam Winer, author of How Dumb Are You?

My book is full of questions every mildly-educated American SHOULD be able to answer—but often can't. Prior to publication, we ran all the questions past a test audience to see how many people answered each one correctly. Those stats are included in the book, so you can see, on a question-by-question basis, exactly how poorly you stack up against your fellow countrymen. Plus each answer comes with a rip-roaring Fun Fact. For Mental Floss, I'll be taking the best facts from the book and exploring them here in greater depth.

Today's Question: Only two cities in the world have had an atomic bomb dropped on them. The first was Hiroshima. What was the other?

Answer: Nagasaki (If you got this wrong, you are dumber than 74% of America.)

The Scoop: Starting in 1951, the Atomic Energy Commission began detonating atomic devices right here in the good ol' U.S. of A., performing nuclear tests in the Nevada desert, a mere 65 miles from downtown Las Vegas. At that time, the understanding of radiation was still a bit thin, and government scientists assured everyone the tests were perfectly safe. So Vegas, being Vegas, made the most of the situation.

Soon calendars were printed up noting atomic test days and the nuclear flashes were being promoted across the nation as Vegas's most dazzling attraction. Nuclear tourists poured into the area, which was now promoting itself as Atomic City. Showgirls danced with mushroom cloud headpieces, postcards were printed showing mushroom clouds blossoming behind the casino-laden skyline and a mushroom cloud was even added to the county's official seal. Some visitors attended bomb viewing parties at the casinos, where gamblers could get sauced while waiting for a nuclear blast. Others wanted an even closer view and would actually sit out in the desert to watch the blast—then marvel at the odd dust that showered down on them afterwards. This, of course, was atomic fallout, but back then no one thought it was any more dangerous than pixie dust.

Over the course of 12 years, 235 nuclear devices were detonated in the Nevada dessert, an average of one every three weeks. The atomic blasts lead to a measurable increase in tourism, publicity and, well"¦ leukemia and cancer cases. But, you know, there's a tradeoff for everything...

Pick up a copy of How Dumb Are You? at your local bookstore or at Amazon.com. For more information, visit stupidityquiz.com.

December 17, 2008 - 7:10am
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