After our the first thread when I mentioned diffing and you asked me why, I made sure to upload all the files from the distribution. We also don't have any of our regular mods on the site. This is a clean site.
I added the code you provided at the bottom of our search.php file, but it does nothing.
I am noticing that it seems to be exhibiting the behavior you would expect if the search field was left blank (returning all items in the db - in our case the test set is only 174).
I'm not sure why the server was timing out for you, but you can try again and see the behavior and results as described.