@tedster, it was from my desktop and now its back to normal, the side menu was placed horizontal inside the search query numbers bar right under the top horizontal menu. It had a dropdown too. The side was empty and the page looked really weird.
Nothing odd for me. But in the course of investigating, I noticed something so strange in Advanced Search [google.com] that I had to go check it in the other browser families. Mozilla, Opera, Webkit: all the same. (MSIE 5 behaved entirely differently, no surprise. If I remember, I'll try some newer versions at the library tomorrow.)
Go to Advanced Search. If you don't see a bunch of grey text to the right of the search boxes, widen your browser window until it shows up. Now SLOWLY make the window narrower.
Isn't that strange? I wonder what in the world they think is supposed to happen.
The top menu doesn't always carry the term over to the vertical. So, if you go to News there, it won't carry your term. You have to use the "News" option in the second menu.
I agree, though, it does look very strange. One thing I notice is that the weird gap on the left looks about the same width as the Google+ left menu. I wonder if they intend on moving the main menu there, in order to bring the layouts even more in line between products.
@Donna, I saw that last month too and reported it in one of those long monthly thread. It then went away. But when I did see it, the Adwords Right Column ads were also on the page (not blank like yours) which means they were more pushed towards the center of the page where the heat map show more eye ball impressions. I think that is what they are testing.