A cylindrical capsule provides an environment for straight-chain alkanes that can properly fill the space through extended or compressed conformations. The encapsulation rates of a series of alkanes were examined and found to be dependent on guest length: the rates of uptake are C(9) > C(10) > C(11), while complex stability is in the reverse order, C(11) > C(10) > C(9). Direct competition experiments, pairwise or between all 3 alkanes, maintain this order as the longer alkanes sequentially displace the shorter ones. The distribution of species with time provides a clock for this complex system, which combines elements of self-sorting phenomena and dynamic combinatorial chemistry. The clock can be stopped by replacing the alkanes with the superior guest 4,4'-dimethylazobenzene, then restarted by irradiation.