Solution to Radical Rebuses

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Answer: SKIN

by Mark

As hinted by the title and flavortext ("exchange student", "radical", "simple"), along with the unusually frequent appearance of mouths, the rebuses in this puzzle clue Chinese characters, specifically simplified Chinese characters.

The first step is to solve the rebuses. The rebuses all clue commonly-used characters, with each radical positioned in the same location as in the clued character. While prior experience with the Chinese language definitely helps with this step, most of the clues can be solved just by looking up radicals/translations and playing around with handwriting recognition software.

The second step is to observe that each character translates to a unique word in the "proverbs" below. This can be used to backsolve the remaining rebuses.

The meaning of each word in the context of its "proverb" often differs from the meaning of the character clued by its associated rebus, suggesting that the meanings are irrelevant. It turns out that each rebus matches with a unique "proverb", and that the number of words in each "proverb" is the same as the number of strokes in its associated character. This suggests that the position of each word in its "proverb" provides an index to extract a single stroke from its associated character.

The rebuses and proverbs are sorted alphabetically (with the rebuses using the pinyin of the clued characters) so their orders are unimportant. The final extraction is clued by the flavortext ("stack"). Drawing each stroke in the position that it appears in its character and overlaying them on top of each other, we recover a new character: 肤. Translating it back to English, we get the answer SKIN.

CharacterPinyinWord"Proverb"# strokes / # wordsIndex
baoprotect"When you attack, do not forget to also protect."99
gangjust"Be just, but also be kind."62
houthick"A thick undergrowth lies before the fruit of success."92
longthroat"Instead of your throat, speak from your lungs."84
panjudge"Do not judge others by their wealth."73
pangfat"Consider eating your cereal with some low fat milk."98
qiufall"Be prudent with your jokes, lest they fall flat."98
zhaoshine"Let your words shine, your thoughts inspire, and all your actions extol virtue."134