First let me say that this story does have a happy ending, unlike many of my printer stories. As you can see from the pics above a simple test cube to check flow (info here and here) and horizontal expansion on a new PLA I was trying, did not go so well. I had been having some issues with print quality on the Ender3 for a couple weeks, but it was good enough for the prototype stuff I was using it for, but now I need to actually print something nice and quality matters. The test print has several problems including bumps on the sides for no apparent reason and a very weird looking pattern on the base which just looks sloppy. I first swapped the nozzle and did not get much improvement, so I bit the bullet and went over the X-gantry again (has been a long time since I had to), and also tightened up all the wheels and cleaned the extrusions they ride on with a microfiber rag. That did the trick and below you can see a before (right) and after (left). I'm not gonna say that there is no more room for improvement since with printers there always is, but for this project this will do.
My mission is to lower the collective IQ of teh Internets one post at a time.