You have a brilliant memory - yes this seem to be a variation of what was described in that thread. In this particular search query what I saw was a strange way of amalgamating organic SERP and Google places 7-pack.
In fact, the first three entries were exactly the same as organic, but if you happen to have a Google place, you get balloon (even if you would not normally be listed as one of 7-pack for that search terms).
Then next 6 entries are google places entries, but if you also had organic listing on page #1, then your organic would jump in that place and you would get balloon. If you did not have organic for this search term then it would only show what it would normally show for 7-pack for that entry. At the end are further 6 organic listings, in the normal order, but if the entry was already listed above, then this organic entry would be "weeded out" so that it does not appear twice on the page.
Interestingly, the position #1 that now shows balloon has never been shown in Locals 7-pack for that query and when trying in different browser and getting "old style" results, it is still not there in 7-pack.
So in that particular SERP the first fourth and fifth had red baloon, whereas SERP entries 2, 3 and 6 did not. I found that it makes me just gloss over these entries without the balloon as the ones with balloon so much stick out.
I also got few other variations of it - something more like the screenshot you posted link to, plus few other variations on how SERPs are displayed when the map is shown in the rightmost column - for example one SERPs had 15 entries listed.
In the thread you are referring to it says:
Yes, the user needs to do the search from within the same geographic area, but that alone is not enough.
In my case I searched from UK for a place in a completely different country, so definitely not in the same geo area.
From what I could conclude - the layout seems to be influenced with how many local listings are for that particular search phrase. It appears that if there are less local results then you get more to what I saw, whereas with more local results (where there was previously the full 7-pack) then you get something more similar to what the screenshot in your post shows.
I also found my focus much more on Google map and actually "seeing" the sponsored links below it (whereas before I developed a complete blindless for that column).