A comment on a recent post of mine pointed me to a question on the OTN SQL and PL/SQL Forum where someone had presented a well-written test case of an odd pattern of behaviour in ANSI SQL. I made a couple of brief comments on the thread, but thought it worth highlighting here as well. The scripts to create the required tables (plus a few extras) are all available on OTN. If you create only the four tables needed and all their indexes you will need about 1.3GB of space.
The core of the problem is this: there is a three table join which does a hash join involving an index fast full scan on a particular index; when you add a fourth table to the join this fast full scan turns into a full tablescan for no obvious reason. Here are the queries, with the plans that I got when running 10.2.0.3. (My final plan is slightly different from the plan shown on OTN – I have a right outer hash join to the last table where the OP had a nested loop outer – but the difference is not significant).