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This (they?) would have been in a major magazine like Analog or Asimov’s, I think. Though it’s possible I read it in an anthology or collection.

The alien planet had humanoid beings that were fur covered and had a highly developed sense of smell.

One nice touch to indicate the future setting is that mohawk hair and rock&roll music was associated with his grandmother’s time.

The aliens were about 100 or 200 years behind us, like mid 20th century. But individuals had no trouble catching up when given access to advanced materials and lab equipment.

One story's plot concerned a substance that the locals would have been able to smell, and humans don’t have scent-proof containers for smuggling, so it had to be a local bringing it.

Another had a human telling his girlfriend troubles to an alien professor who is incognito as an airport worker, and they share drinks made from pharmacy grade methanol and distilled water so it would be safe for both.

A woman figures out that the (alien) hotel staff has been replaced by grad students studying her, by watching a sport on TV (a cooperative thing called bag drag) and noting their lack of interest.

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2 Answers 2

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Could this be Touchdown, Touchdown, Rah, Rah, Rah! By W. R. Thompson, originally published in Analog Science Fiction?

Notably the game is "bagdrag" rather than "bag drag"

“A human player,” Zelk said. The dean of Vrekle University sniffed thoughtfully as she read the papers Ray Bennett had put on her desk. Ray thought she looked puzzled; her dark muzzle had grown more wrinkled than before. “Coming to Kya, this student’s main desire is to play bagdrag?”

“It’s not his only reason for coming here,” Ray told her. “Richard Faber is majoring in education. He wants to extend his studies to include some nonhuman educational techniques.”

“Yes, his letter mentions that.” The dean stood up and walked over to her office window. It was late summer on this part of Kya, and a warm breeze brought a scent like cinnamon through the glassless window. Ray enjoyed it, although he knew it had a greater impact on Dean Zelk; the kya had an exquisite sense of smell. “Representing him, what can you tell me about him?” she asked, as she idly stroked at the thick fur on one forearm.

“He’s just finished his second year at Colorado State,” Ray said. “His scholastic record is good. He’s a star football player. I guess he wants to branch out into new sports.”

You can read the full story online here. Given how few of the other details match, it's possible that it's another story in the same series or that you've conflated this story with another one.

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  • Hmm. Surprisingly few of the details you've described in your question fit the story above. Are you sure you've not conflated two different stories?
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 22:00
  • That’s not the story I recall. But I’m guessing it’s a later story set in the same series. Assuming it’s by the same author, the bibliography is not broken down by series and none of the titles are suggestive. I can’t find any summary or diecussion via Google.
    – JDługosz
    Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 21:35
  • @JDługosz - Hence why I imagined that you'd conflated two stories.
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 27, 2016 at 0:00
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    @JDługosz: the ISFDB entry doesn't list it, but I found another source that lists Touchdown Touchdown as part of his "Kya" series, including "Maverick," "Varmint," "Outlaw," "Lost In Translation," and "Roundup". Commented Nov 27, 2016 at 2:14
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    @JDługosz The author's ISFDB entry DOES list the Kya stories as a series, just way above novels/short stories so it's easy to miss, and again, apparently the list leaves out some Kya stories that are just listed in the "short stories" section. As for an answer, nah, I only heard of this through Valorum's answer in the first place, and I still haven't been able to find which stories have the specific elements you remember, so I'd say he deserves first crack at refining the answer. I'm just providing some additional help. Commented Nov 27, 2016 at 13:18
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The specific story you're looking for is "Maverick" (1989) by W. R. Thompson. Apparently it was published only in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, December 1989.

The story is narrated by John Baxter, a biologist who has been posted to Kya as part of a scientific mission for four years as the story begins. The plot is kicked off by the arrival of attaché Nancy O'Donough from Earth, ostensibly to unblock negotiations with the kya for human access to an alien artifact on their world (also called Kya).

The alien planet had humanoid beings that were fur covered and had a highly developed sense of smell.

Inspector Klou came out of his office. He was an old fellow, with patchy white fur, and his age exaggerated both the crouching kya posture and his muzzle wrinkles. "Hello, Baxter," he said.

"Hello, Klou." That's not a good translation, by the way. The kya hello is a loud, deep sniff, a sampling of your scent. They have a terrific sense of smell.

One nice touch to indicate the future setting is that mohawk hair and rock&roll music was associated with his grandmother’s time.

The applause faded as O'Donough came in. She looked nonchalant as she mounted the podium and faced us, and that made her the only unruffled human on Kya. She had left herself with a high, thin crest of hair down the center of her scalp, and she had added make-up that made her look like Geronimo. Beyond that she was dressed in the pale-blue utility coveralls everyone wore. It made a hell of a contrast.

"Maya O'Donough was a singer in a punk band around the turn of the century." So that was why her hair style rang a bell. Ancient history.

Here "her hair style" refers to Nancy O'Donough's mohawk in the previous quote. Note that "ancient history" is a bit of hyperbole, since it's only about 40 years ago, not 70 or more.

The aliens were about 100 or 200 years behind us, like mid 20th century. But individuals had no trouble catching up when given access to advanced materials and lab equipment.

A lot of kya watched us drive past. I'd been here long enough to learn their facial expressions, and I could read their envy. They didn't have repulsors, robot control systems or any of a dozen other things built into our van, but they wanted them. It did no good to tell the kya that we were "only" a century or so ahead of them. A century is a long to them as it is to us.

One of Baxter's alien colleagues is Research-instructor Vse, a kya biologist. Early in the story he notes that most of their working sessions involve her trying to catch up to him, but she does learn to use his equipment to do her own research.

Another had a human telling his girlfriend troubles to an alien professor who is incognito as an airport worker, and they share drinks made from pharmacy grade methanol and distilled water so it would be safe for both.

I accompanied. His office was a dank cubbyhole, filled with dusty filing cabinets. He began digging through them. "There is trouble with Krupskaya?"

"I wanted only—trouble thus—even didn't she tell me—" I was so upset I could barely speak English, much less kya. Aelita had snuck out of town, I'd had to hear from goddamned O'Donough that she was getting married, I'd missed my last chance to see her, and here was Research-instructor Klou, alias Inspector Klou, studying the male of the alien species.

"Krupskaya went up," he said at last. Then he sat down behind his desk, removed a porcelain jar and matching glasses from a drawer, and filled them. "Pure ethyl alcohol and distilled water, no other additions. Is such human-compatible?"

A woman figures out that the (alien) hotel staff has been replaced by grad students studying her, by watching a sport on TV (a cooperative thing called bag drag) and noting their lack of interest.

O'Donough figures this out in her first few days while recovering from space sickness.

"'Sports'?" That was an odd change of subject, even for her. "Aside from women's gymnastics, it bores me. Why?"

"Typical university intellectual." She grinned. "The first day I was here I watched some bagdrag. When I asked one of the kya staff about it, he said he didn't like it. So I watched some more, and I got some other staffers into my room, and they all said much the same thing. Bagdrag was stupid, pointless, and so on. That's an odd way for working-class folks to feel about a popular sport—"

My jaw dropped. "They're spies."

"No, they're university researchers doing field work. They're studying the aliens and getting a look at our daily lives."

The only plot pointed noted that I don't see a fit for is smuggling substances that the locals might be able to smell. I do remember something like that happening in a story (too vague a memory for me to pin down right now) but it's not this one. It's also not in the following stories "Varmint" (set on Earth and a dead alien planet) or "Outlaw" (set on Earth and in space). It's possible that memory is a conflation with another story.

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