The Experimental Design Bureau (Russian: Опытное конструкторское бюро [ОКБ]), commonly known as sharashka (Russian: шара́жка) was an informal name for secret research and development laboratories in the Soviet Gulag labour camp system. Etymologically, the word sharashka is derived from a Russian slang expression sharashkina kontora ("Sharashka's office", which in its turn comes from the criminal argot term sharaga (шарага) for a band of thieves, hoodlums, etc.), an ironic, derogatory term to denote a poorly organised, impromptu, or bluffing organisation.

The scientists and engineers at a sharashka were zek prisoners picked from various camps and prisons and assigned to work on scientific and technological problems for the state. Living conditions were usually much better than in an average taiga camp, mostly because of the absence of hard labour.

The results of the research in sharashkas were usually published under the names of prominent Soviet scientists without credit given to the real authors, whose names frequently have been forgotten. Some of the brilliant scientists and engineers imprisoned in sharashkas were released during and after World War II, continuing independent careers and becoming world-famous.

Sharashka in The Gladiator[]

A sharashka was a laboratory manned by zeks, first used by the Soviet Union. After the USSR won the Cold War, sharashkas were found throughout the world, but used most by the USSR, Germany and China. When Alfredo asked Eduardo Caruso where The Gladiator obtained its games, Caruso put him off by claiming the store had a sharashka in the basement, where zeks developed all manner of games.[1]


  1. The Gladiator, pg. 87, HC.