From the 1950s up through the early 1990s, the specter of nuclear war cast a shadow over the world like a giant, gloomy mushroom tattoo. Hollywood and our own morbid imaginations came up with any number of scenarios that would wipe out humanity in a series of blinding flashes: robots, Russian and American policies of mutually assured destruction. But Kubrick was probably closest when he imagined the nuclear era as a game of poker between cocky, absent-minded lunatics. Only he probably didn't go far enough. After all, he could have never imagined ...
During the Cold War, American and Soviet military leaders temporarily forgot why nuclear bombing yourself was a bad idea. The "nuclear weapons tests" conducted on home soil were officially for research purposes. In reality, each explosion was the military equivalent of punching your fist into your open hand and pointing at the guy whose ass is totally grass.
Anyone close enough to wonder why it was suddenly so windy and blinding were told the explosions were being set off at a safe distance. For instance, Area 51, the army base in the middle of the Nevada desert (where conspiracy theorists believe the Army is reverse-engineering UFOs), was actually one of the most active nuclear test sites in the world. Russia was able to set off their weapons in the similarly desolate region of the country known as "the part that's not Moscow."
And letting the fallout get blown off to the part that's not Russia.
But as technology advanced and the bombs grew bigger and more explode-y, the idea that there was such a thing as a "safe distance" was rendered ridiculous. For instance, according to the Seattle Times, "over the years the atmospheric tests conducted over America exposed a quarter-million assembled troops, plus communities downwind in Nevada and Utah, to an estimated 12 billion curies of radiation, or 148 times the release from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear-plant meltdown."
Being the more pragmatic of the superpowers, in 1961 the Soviets decided to get all of their reckless endangerment out of the way with one test -- the Tsar Bomba, thusly named because of the Soviet tendency to put "tsar" in front of anything that's stupidly big.
The Tsar Tank was to regular tanks what Ferris wheels are to regular tanks.
Rather than trying to keep pace with America's increasingly precise guided missile delivery systems, Russia's solution was to build and test a bomb that was so big that aim literally didn't matter. It was like losing an archery competition and throwing a hand grenade at the target to remind the winner just how little aim mattered in the face of your sheer ass-slapping lunacy.
The Tzar Bomba was so impractically big that creating a parachute to slow its descent disrupted the Soviet textile industry. If you're wondering why they needed a parachute in the first place, it's because no matter how high you dropped it from, the resulting explosion would reach up into the sky and disintegrate your plane unless you gave yourself some kind of head start. In fact, the bomb was originally supposed to be twice as big as it ended up being, but they realized that it would be impossible to drop such a bomb from an airplane without killing everyone aboard. Also, it probably would have cracked the earth like an egg. Who the hell knows?
"If we don't try to destroy all life on earth, we'll never know if we can."
The scaled-down version of the bomb was still big enough to cause a fireball that was seen 600 miles away, meaning if it was dropped over Manhattan, you would have been able to watch New York City burn from Virginia. Windowpanes would have been broken down through South Carolina. Even though they dropped Tsar Bomba over a deserted area in the Arctic Circle, wooden houses were destroyed and stone houses had their roofs blown off hundreds of miles away. The shock wave was so extreme that even with the parachute giving them a 20-mile head start, the plane that dropped it was knocked into a free fall for a half-mile before catching itself and continuing to get out of Dodge.
Tsar Bomba turned heads worldwide. The insane cost of producing it and everyone's terrified expressions combined to make it the biggest bomb anyone has ever dropped.