How Much Do You Know About the Cuban Missile Crisis?


By: John Miller

6 Min Quiz

Image: Cecil Stoughton, White House

About This Quiz

After World War II, the United States and USSR were the world’s only remaining superpowers. And they had conflicting ideologies, with the U.S. touting freedom, capitalism and democracy while the Soviets were determined to spread Communism throughout the world. The titans clashed throughout the Cold War, but during the Cuban Missile Crisis, things got scary in a hurry. In this quiz, what do you really know about the missile crisis and its aftermath?

In 1961, the United States was fed up with Fidel Castro, the revolutionary Communist leader of Cuba. President Kennedy and his men did everything they could to oust the bearded firebrand in hopes of pushing Communism farther from America’s shores. The CIA’s not-so-brilliant plan backfired and left military leaders looking for new solutions. Do you know which ill-fated plan we’re referring to? And do you know how the Cubans responded?

The USSR enjoyed pressuring U.S. interests during the Cold War, so its leaders decided to press their luck in late 1962. Suddenly, nuclear weapons seemed like they were inevitably about to arrive near American shores. How did ordinary citizens learn the news? And how did Americans respond to the ominous broadcasts about the Soviet missiles?

As America tried to find a way to keep Communist missiles from threatening the East Coast and the rest of nation, Cuban and Soviet officials kept escalating the situation. President Kennedy was left in a precarious situation – would he back down or risk World War III with the Soviet Union? 

Jump into the treacherous situation of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis! We’ll see if you can find a political solution or if you’ll be dodging incoming ICBMs!

Who was U.S. president during the Cuban Missile Crisis?

The crisis occurred in 1962, just as President Kennedy was gathering momentum with his administration. The crisis became one of the scariest moments of the 20th century.


The Cuban Missile Crisis found the U.S. at odds with which nation?

The U.S. learned that the USSR was in the process of installing nuclear missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from the American coast. The revelation startled U.S. citizens all over the country.


Why were the Cubans allowing the USSR to place nuclear missiles in their country?

Cuba's leader, Fidel Castro, requested the missiles from the USSR. Why? He wanted prevent the U.S. from invading his country.


In 1961, the U.S. tried to overthrow Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Why?

Castro was a Communist who aligned himself with the USSR and its leader Nikita Khrushchev. The U.S. wanted to remove Castro and install a government that was friendlier to American interests.


What was the name of the failed U.S. invasion of Cuba in 1961?

In 1961, C.I.A.-trained Cuban exiles stormed Cuba in hopes of sparking an uprising. The Bay of Pigs Invasion was a total failure that gave the Americans a round of humiliating headlines across the world.


Why did the Kennedy Administration deny -- for months -- that the USSR was installing missiles in Cuba?

The Kennedy Administration couldn't run an effective campaign if Americans knew about the missiles heading for Cuba. So the administration denied the missiles' existence for months, until the election was much closer.


In 1961, where did the U.S. deploy missiles that made Soviets nervous?

In 1961, the U.S. deployed nukes in Turkey and Italy, far too close for the comfort of Soviet leaders. It's one reason the USSR felt emboldened to send missiles to Cuba, which would help the Soviets shift the balance of nuclear weapons.


What's an "ICBM"?

At the core of the crisis were ICBMs or intercontinental ballistic missiles, which were able to carry nuclear warheads for hundreds or thousands of miles. ICBMs in Cuba meant that the USSR could attack and destroy major U.S. cities in very little time.


The Cuban Missile Crisis happened during which conflict?

The crisis happened during the Cold War, in which the U.S. and USSR stared each other down in various places around the world. The missile kerfuffle was probably the scariest moment of the entire Cold War.


How did President Kennedy alert Americans that the USSR was sending nukes to Cuba?

JFK and his handsome face appeared on TV and gravely informed America that the Soviets were sending missiles to Cuba. He said that the U.S. would not tolerate the missiles so close to their soil.


How did the Kennedy Administration address the missile issue?

President Kennedy appeared in a television address and stated that the missile problem was real. But he also said that the U.S. had a plan of action to deal with the Communist threat -- a naval blockade.


How effective was the naval blockade?

Once the news became public, the U.S. had to do something. Officials sent the Navy to implement a strong blockade of Cuba. Suddenly, the effective blockade meant that the country was cut off from the USSR and the rest of the world.


What other course of action did JFK consider at the beginning of the crisis?

Kennedy's men considered much more drastic action, like bombing the missile sites or even a full-on invasion of Cuba. In the end, Kennedy opted for a blockade, which prevented an immediate escalation into violence.


After hearing JFK's television address, what did many Americans do?

Many Americans went into freak-out mode during the crisis, anticipating a nuclear attack of some sort. They hoarded food and water and hoped that the world wasn't about to end.


How did the U.S. confirm that there were missiles in Cuba, anyway?

The U.S. routinely sent spy planes high over Cuban territory. The planes captured images of the missile sites on the little island.


Kennedy's blockade was meant to stop further missile deliveries to Cuba. What else did he demand from the Communists?

Kennedy aimed to stop any new missile shipments. He also demanded that the USSR take back any missiles it had already installed in Cuba.


What did Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev think that Kennedy would do about the missiles?

Khrushchev figured that Kennedy was too spineless to stand up to the Soviets in Cuba and that he'd never risk war. Instead, JFK threw down the gauntlet and dared the Soviets to challenge him.


If the Communists launched missiles from Cuba, how long would it take to destroy much of the East Coast of America?

The missiles on Cuba were no joke. If the Communists opted to launch them, much of America's East Coast would be fire and ashes in just minutes. And back then, New Jersey was worth saving, so JFK was forced to do something.


On October 14, 1962, what did the U.S. discover on Cuba?

On October 14, U.S. officials confirmed the worst-case scenario. Not only did the Cubans have missiles, but they were building missile launching sites, too, meaning it wouldn't be long before the ICBMs were ready for action.


True or false, during the blockade did the U.S. stop food and other life necessities from reaching Cuba?

The U.S. Navy blockaded all military assistance from reaching Cuba. But it didn't stop food items or other products necessary for civilians.


On October 24, what did Nikita Krushchev say to Kennedy regarding USSR ships headed to Cuba?

Krushchev had no intentions of backing down. He said his ships were heading to Cuba and that any U.S. interference would be regarded as an act of aggression.


During the crisis, the U.S. Strategic Air Command reached which status of alert?

During the crisis, as tensions escalated, the U.S. Strategic Air Command went to DEFCON 2, the second-highest alert level. Only one other time (during the Persian Gulf War) has America's SAC reached DEFCON 2.


On October 27, U.S. pilot Rudolf Anderson flew a U-2 spy plane over Cuba. What happened?

Anderson was using his U-2 spy plane to monitor activities on Cuba when he was shot down by surface-to-air missile. He was killed, the only U.S. fatality of the crisis.


What did Fidel Castro ask the USSR to do during the strike?

Castro was sure that the U.S. was going to invade his country. He asked he USSR to launch a preemptive strike on America … but fortunately, cooler heads prevailed in Soviet quarters.


How did the Soviet air force react to the crisis?

In contrast to the U.S., the Soviet air force did almost nothing during the crisis, perhaps understanding that the ships loaded with missiles were already provocation enough.


How long did the Cuban Missile Crisis last?

The crisis escalated to terrifying heights, worrying families and politicians the world over. After 13 days, the two sides finally deescalated the situation.


How long did the U.S. blockade of Cuba last?

For one month, the U.S. blockade of Cuba slowly but surely ramped up tensions in the area. Finally, on November 21, the blockade (and the crisis) was ended.


In exchange for the Soviets removing their missiles, what did the U.S. publicly announce?

The Kennedy Administration successfully pressed the USSR to remove its missiles from Cuba. In return, the U.S. (very publicly) announced that it would never invade Cuba again.


Much later, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was quoted as saying what about the crisis?

In a book titled "The Cold War," by Martin Walker, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was quoted as saying, “I thought it was the last Saturday I would ever see." His ominous words show that even top-level U.S. officials were worried that the situation was spiraling out of control.


After the crisis, why did the U.S. and USSR install a special hotline between the nations?

After the crisis, the U.S. and USSR installed the Moscow-Washington hotline, a direct line between the two cities. The idea was to provide much faster communication in the event of another crisis. But if there's a busy signal? BOOM.


Explore More Quizzes

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!