The fact that the IP address worked but using a hostname didn't is fairly suggestive. And also the fact that the blank page you saw had a doctype declaration - something Google don't include in their result or error pages. I suspect this may have been unrelated to Google; perhaps a caching error either with your local network or ISP.
Not really, since the requests are routed by Google. I believe you are more likely to hit certain data centers if you use regional Googles and there may be other similar factors that affect which data center you hit, but I don't think there's a way you can directly influence Google's choice. You can force the use of a particular data center in various ways, however.